The Sacrificial Runner

What I witnessed during that cross country race was the most sacrificial, selfless act I’ve ever seen from any student athlete. Few spectators even had a clue what was really happening behind the scenes.  But because my son is on the team, I knew.

A varsity cross country team is composed of seven runners.  Scores count for the first five runners from a team to cross the line.  The lowest team score wins, so the faster your team’s first five runners finish, the better your team will place.

Needless to say, toward the end of the season, the varsity runners on my son’s team were preparing for conference and postseason races.  Their eyes were on the long term prize: getting as far as possible as a team in the postseason. Their coach, a brilliant and trustworthy man, had a request.  At a fairly big meet, the week prior to the conference race, he asked if the top runner would be willing to hold up, stay back, and run with the fifth runner on the team to help pace him, give him pointers, and fill him with confidence for the postseason.

This would present a quandary for any human.  Would a person be willing to give up individual recognition and awards for the long-term good of the group?  You see, anyone who follows cross country races in our neck of the woods knows our top runner was sure to win that race.  

I’m amazed at the complexity of the decision the number one runner had to make.

  1. He had to choose whether or not he would listen to authority.  In this situation, Coach is this young runner’s authority, and this is what Coach was asking him to do.  Would he buck authority and think his plan best, or would he honor what was being asked of him?
  2. He had to choose whether he would run for short-term accolades or long-term success.  Was he running just for that race, or was he looking at races two, three, four, and five weeks down the road?
  3. He had to choose what was most important.  Was it himself or was it the team? Whoa! I don’t think I’m wrong when I say most adults would choose themselves over the team, so for a teenager to be willing to sacrifice, during his senior year, no less, he probably had to think about it.

The race began and as I tramped through the woods in my official cross country rain boots I saw what choice the number one runner had made.  He was not the first, or even one of the top ten runners who passed me. Instead, he came around the corner with the team’s fifth runner while pacing him, talking with him, encouraging him, and molding him into a better runner for the postseason.  

And in a great turn of events, by the end of the race, the sacrificial, number one runner propelled himself to a ninth place finish!  Ninth . . . out of several hundred runners. 

For those of us who knew what he’d done, and how he’d sacrificed, we were blown away.  We praised and congratulated him as never before. I could barely keep from crying when I spoke to this young man I’ve literally known since he was born.  

“I am always proud of you when you run, but today . . . what you did today was so selfless, so sacrificial, that was literally the most Christ-like thing I have ever seen in a cross country race.  What a fine young man you are!”

And then when I spoke with the young man’s parents, I did cry.  I congratulated them on raising such a quality young man. And I told them something I firmly believe: “When we all stand before God, He will never ask about your son’s race times, but He will remember this.  He will remember the sacrifice your son made and his eternal rewards will far, far outweigh his earthly rewards.”

And so I ask you, Dear Reader, as well as myself:

  1. Are you and I willing to listen to our Coach?  Are we willing to follow our Coach’s plan even when it’s not our first choice?
  2. Are you and I willing to give up short-term accolades for long-term glory?
  3. Do you and I put others first or run “our race” just for ourselves?

One Saturday autumn morning in northern Indiana I watched a young man run an amazing race.  He didn’t win, but oh . . . oh he did! 

Until the next Wednesday the Lord allows.