Thursday, June 19, 2008

He Gets His Speed from His Mama

I've been a soccer mom for many years now. Brady started playing when he was 6, almost 10 years ago, and I've spent 1/2 of every year either on the sidelines of a soccer field, en route to a soccer field, making phone calls to arrange games on soccer fields, or en route home from a soccer field. Thankfully I love soccer, although that's probably in no small part due to the fact that my favorite kids in the whole world play. There's something about watching your kids play a sport that will make even the most die-hard, anti-spectator sports person, like me, lather up the sunscreen and load the folding chairs over and over and over again, and even run up and down the sidelines cheering, and EVEN toss a critical word or two in the direction of an exceptionally bad referee. (One of the funniest I ever heard was yelled by a coach - "Hey ref! Where'd you get your license, WalMart?" Refs can never win.)

Time and again, Rob, ever-hopeful, asks not if, but how many college or professional games I'd like to see with him. When I cringe in response, my body language clearly screaming "Nopleasedon'tmakeme," he tries the same tactic over and over - "But you had your own season football tickets in college!" And over and over, my reply is this - (Kids, please stop reading now) - "Um, TAILGATE parties? I wasn't there for the football, honey. I was there for the party."

Jonathan has played soccer since he was four. After almost 7 years of it, though, Jonathan's interest began to wane. It was never as much his sport as his big brother's, which was always fine with us. Trouble was, it wasn't fine with him. It irritated him that he'd show up for every practice, run all the assigned laps without walking (when most didn't even try), work extra hard on every drill, and then still not start each game. So, last spring he decided to try baseball.

He was definitely most-improved player on his team and he did pretty well - especially considering he was the smallest on his team by about 12 inches (no kidding) and 30 pounds. Trouble was, those good ol' boys had been playing together for going on 6 years - and being the new kid on the block was, well... let's just say if there was a welcome mat laid out, we never did find it. It was a long, frustrating season, and Jonathan's shoulders slumped more and more as he got better and better but played less and less. When he said he didn't want to play baseball again this spring, Rob and I let out the collective-breath we'd been holding. That was good news for everyone involved.

He opted for soccer again, but early in the season all the old reservations came rising to the surface for him. Too much bench-time, not enough playing time, even though once again, he was working hard and showing well in practice. He's small for his age, maybe that's it.

The thing about Jonathan is he has the mental stamina of a star athlete - It's just that his physicality hasn't quite kept up yet. He's young, so there's plenty of time - and rest assured there's no pressure from us to be a star. But here's the thing - he wants it. He wants it badly.

So one day this spring I saw an ad in the newspaper for a kids' running club. 3 divisions - silver, gold, and platinum - with silver being beginners and platinum being the club-runners of the track and field world. "Hey Jonathan, want to try a kids' track and field club?"

No hesitation - "Sign me up."

This is a kid who has every Rocky Balboa movie memorized backward and forward. He knows all the Russian translations of Ivan Drago's character. (An aside - Does he look like Max Headroom, or what?!? Thank you, I thought so too.) He knows who produced the movies. He knows that Sylvester Stalone is only 5'7" in real life but Rocky Balboa is 5'11" in his movies. He has all the soundtracks and he can quote any part of any movie. But the most striking thing of all? He knows all the training sequences from each movie; better yet, he does them. Thanks to his interest in Rocky Balboa, he now owns a heavy bag and a speed bag, a jump rope and free weights, boxing gloves and hand wraps for when he gets bloody knuckles - which he does. On his birthday list is a chin-up bar. Two years ago he put a sign on his bedroom door to remind himself to do push-ups and sit-ups every day. Which he's done. Some nights, I have to wait to tuck him because just when I reach to shut off his light, he exclaims, "I forgot to do my push-ups and sit-ups!" and then asks me to wait so I can tuck him in afterward. When this kid puts his mind to something? He does it.

Last night was his first track meet. He'd signed up for the long jump, the 800m run, the 400m dash, and the 1500m run. And how'd he do, you ask?

Two golds and a bronze, that's how!

Here he is, preparing for his first race. He was so nervous that morning, he got up, ate breakfast, and put himself back to bed, trying to calm his nerves. You know how each person has unique mannerisms? That are dead give-aways to the trained parental eye? Here's one of Jonathan's - holding his head. Recalling my own glory days in track, I was nervous for him, remembering how my insides would churn before the start of each race. I'd be equally impatient - "let's just race already!" - and dread-filled - "I'm not ready!" But the difference between a pre-race Jonathan and pre-race me all those many moons ago? Jonathan has the mental stamina that I lacked. I knew he could do this.

As they lined up for the start of the 800m run, I had to pinch myself to keep from pacing and possibly translating my nervousness to Jonathan. I settled for taking 93 pictures to keep my mind occupied. (Yes, I said 93. I was really nervous.)

But I need not have worried - here he is, coming in FIRST! First place! MY BOY CAME IN FIRST! I'm just a wee bit proud.

This little stinker... he ran his fastest pace ever for the first 600m, and then at the last 200m mark (and the 200m is a brutal sprinting distance, by the way), he turned it on and he sprinted the last 200m! We all sat with our mouths hanging open while the coach gave us thumbs up signs from the infield. He finished with a time of 3:04. Yay Jonathan!

Here he is with his first place medal!

Next was the 400m, which is one lap around the track - a 1/4 mile. This race is a sprint and is rather grueling - and I should know, because I used to run it. He came in third in this race. But let's look at his form - beautiful. The sprint coach calls it "cheek pocket" - as your hands should go straight up and down from cheek to pocket. "Cheek pocket! Cheek pocket! Cheek pocket!" We like saying "Cheek pocket!" 'round here. Wish I'd had that for my bag of tricks when I coached track and field.

(Notice how I keep infusing the post with my own glory days. I'm sorry.)

Next up was the mile, but here was the problem - since the kids are younger, they don't have all the events. There are no hurdles, there's only one relay, and there's no two-mile run, for instance. That meant Jonathan's 400m race and his mile run were back-to-back, and since he was in a late heat for the 400m, he had about 1-2 minutes to rest before taking position to begin the mile. Like worried mother hens, my mom and I were saying he didn't have to do it if he didn't feel well - he looked rather pale, the nervousness of the day catching up to him added to the fatigue from running hard - but he shook his head and took his place. The coaches came up to give him some pointers, and more than one timer said, "Dude, this kid just ran the 400m! Way to double-up, Buddy!" while giving him a high-five. Jonathan suppressed a proud smile and tried to catch his breath before the starter fired his gun.

During lap 3, a girl who'd been tailing Jonathan passed him, and thinking back, I remembered how that's just the sort of thing that can take the gumption right out of ya. But not Jonathan. On the last 100m stretch of lap 4, he kicked it in....

And he passed that (poor) grrl! She stayed with him, but he didn't let up. I don't know where he found it, but he had a nice little kick at the end.

The sprint coach told me at practice last week that's the difference between an athlete and a champion - champions can dig deep inside and find "it" within themselves - and win.

And win he did. Jonathan honey? I knew you had it in you. All that commitment finally paid off.

You rock!


debra said...

Way to go, Jonathan! And kudos to the parents for supporting him in finding his place :-)

Heather said...

Woohoo, Jonathan!

whimsigal said...

Go 'head on with your bad self, Jonathan!!!!

Good for you!!!


(am I the only one hearing Chariots of Fire in my head as I read this post?)

Chris said...

That is amazing! Way to go, Jonathan!!!


Laura/CenterDownHome said...

Hey Laura! I haven't checked your blog in a while ('cause life's been crazy here) -- I'm so glad I did! Jesse is the runner here, you know -- the whole reason he's looking into going to high school. There is a weekly track meet for kids and adults at the stadium in Richmond, and we've been going. Beautiful summer evenings of running.

I am so proud of your boy! So happy for you that he has found something he loves. Way to go, Jonathan!

Would Jonathan like the Prefontaine movies? We found two different movies and a documentary. Jesse loves these.

Colleen said...

Yippee!! :)

Lynn said...

What a guy !!!

Beverly said...

That's a great story. I'm sure running is better exercise than baseball at any rate. It's also a sport that people tend to stay with their whole lives. I just took the kids to cheer on the runners at a marathon, and there were people from 12 up to their 70s in it.
We go to some community races with the kids, and my girls seem to be more competitive than my son. He has been in several plays and seems to enjoy acting very much. The funny thing in the races is that he seems like he's acting like a runner, like it's all in his head. He doesn't seem to have that eye-of-the-tiger drive to actually pass the other runners.
Or maybe he's just not very fast. Goodness knows I'm not.