He caught the Covid virus early in the game, long before the vaccines became available. He was young and seemed to sail through his illness with few of the most frightening symptoms. He was an exceedingly healthy athlete, so nobody worried much about how he might react to being ill. It was only 2020, and the entire world was still attempting to adjust a pandemic that would ultimately affect virtually everyone on earth in one way or another.
He managed to continue his schooling remotely. It wasn’t a great way to spend his senior year of high school, but at least he would be able to graduate on time. He was a runner and a swimmer whose competitions and practices were in limbo. All of the years he had spent working toward what should have been his penultimate year were upended. He was on his own for keeping in shape. Running through his neighborhood was his only avenue of exercise for a very long time. It would be the spring of 2021 before his world began to feel a bit more normal, but even then there were restrictions that changed the traditions of his waning high school years. Being an optimist he looked forward to college and celebrated his recruitment to the cross country and track teams of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. By hook and crook he did his best to stay healthy and fit.
His first year in college sports was disappointing. He had trouble with his breathing. As an endurance runner it baffled him that he would lose steam as he neared the end of a race gulping for air. It was so unlike anything he had ever before experienced. Then he sustained an injury that slowed him even more. The young athlete who had once run like a gazelle was hobbled with pain and breathless moments. He too often found himself at the end of the pack of runners.
He kept his optimism and his champion’s heart. He did what was needed to slowly heal. It was like taking baby steps as he continued his forward progress, improving his times by decimals. It was frustrating, challenging. Sometimes he felt as though someone had punched the air out of his lungs, but he kept practicing, strengthening, working on every aspect of his technique with optimism and determination. He celebrated the victories of his teammates and the tiniest signs of his own improvement.
Spring of 2023 came. It had been three years since Covid had interrupted his running prowess. Three years since he had run miles and kicked ahead of of a pack of runners to place in the top. A lesser soul might have simply given in to the pain and sometimes weakness of his body, but he was determined to set things right. He adopted an attitude of making his journey fun. He wanted to race because it made him happy. It was something he loved to do even if it meant being an unsung hero on the team.
This spring he began to resemble the runner he had once been. He raced at Texas Tech University and the University of Houston and did not place, but looked like someone with the potential to do so. He was no longer sucking for air at the back of the runners. He had moved up to a place where he had the potential to use his famous kick and overtake the other competitors. His beautiful stride had returned. His injuries no longer seemed to plague him. It was a wonderful transformation to witness.
Then came what he would call “the funnest race” he had ever run. It was a steeplechase that required him to vault over hurdles and run through puddles of water for almost two miles. He kept up with the front half of the group for the first five laps around the track and then he began to make his classic moves. He overtook one runner and then another until he was on the heels of the second place competitor. The distance between the two of them was only three seconds. He had emerged as a champion once again. His breathing was strong. His body felt better than it had since 2020 when everything about it seemed to change and fail him. He came in third behind two runners who had been state and national champions the year before. He was elated.
I like to think of that runner as an example for all of us. Instead of whining or complaining about what the virus known as Covid had done to him, he kept adjusting as he moved toward his goals. He was patient, hardworking, determined, willing to tackle setbacks with a smile. He never lost his optimism or his good humor. He did not wallow in self pity when his lungs would play out in the middle of a race, or his shin splints would cripple him. He helped his body to heal one day at a time. Little by little he regained the abilities that had seemed to be stolen by the pandemic.
We would all do well to spend less time complaining and blaming when things don’t go exactly as we wish. Instead we would benefit from taking up our lives and setting small goals that ultimately lead to bigger ones. We don’t have to constantly act like victims. We can take charge and improve ourselves no matter where we presently are in life. It is in our attitudes and day to day sacrifices that we will find the progress that we want to see. Start today and stick with your plan one small step at a time. Before you know it, you too will be a winner. Don’t ever give up on yourself.