“The best athletes cross the finish line first. The best leaders cross the finish line with their team.”
Five kilometers can’t be that hard. At least that’s what I was thinking before the race began.
The morning sky was clear blue. The sun was shining, warming the runners who gathered in front of Nicholson Hall to participate in the first Kingswood University 5K.
I arrived early enough to snag the coveted number #001 although I held no illusions that the number would in any way be prophetic of my time or ranking.
A small but hardy band of aspiring athletes assembled to hear directions, to stretch muscles, and to enjoy the camaraderie of the event. An enthusiastic team of volunteers served them with smiles. There were about as many volunteers as there were runners. Coach Kirk Sabine was directing traffic and Professor Brent Dongell’s contagious enthusiasm was inspiring the runners.
Just before the race, I was asked, as a gesture of formality, to offer a prayer for the event and the participants. The words of Isaiah 40:29-31 came to mind so I prayed that “those who run will not grow weary and those of us who walk will not faint.” And I meant it. The last thing I needed was to fall over from heat prostration. That would embarrass me and frighten my running partners!
With an appropriate countdown and a valiant but feeble attempt to vocally imitate a starter’s pistol, the race began and the contestants were off and running or jogging or walking. I started out with a gentle jog not wanting to fall too far behind but before long there were three of us together trailing the field.
It wasn’t too much further along, maybe about the 1k mark, that my lungs suggested to my legs that it was time for them to stop showing off. My gentle jog became a walk. This was moderately brisk walk to be sure, but my pace was definitely short of anything resembling running. Every so often I would gather myself with a short burst of energy and catch the runners ahead of me. But they seemed to be getting stronger as the race went on.
Along the race route, the volunteer staff shouted their encouragement and the amused vehicle operators waved us on at the road crossings. I was quite relieved to see the halfway mark and it was refreshing to be greeted by the effervescent Mireille Bastarache. Then I faced the reality that I still had to make it all the way back … only now on legs of rubber.
By now you have clued in to the fact that I was really out of shape. But, since I survived long enough to write this post so you know the race didn’t kill me.
The best part of the race for me was when the two freshmen who tied for first place, and set the course record (this being the inaugural race), came back out on the course to meet the old president. They ran alongside and spurred me on to a final burst of speed (speed being a relative concept). With that blindingly fast last 50-meter sprint, I crossed the finish line in just under 36 minutes.
Then, without hesitating, Mike and Luke ran back down the course and did the same for the last runner in the race.
Their generosity and encouragement reminded me of this principle: the best athlete may cross the finish line first but the best leaders cross the finish line with their team.
Mike and Luke demonstrated their potential for great leadership that day!
My prayers were answered. Yes, sometimes I could only walk, but I did not faint. Now, maybe next time I can run and not grow weary.
One more thing. Remember my number #001. Well, if this 5k race had a grouping for people over 50, I was definitely #1 in my age category.
If you look for it, you can always find something positive, even when you’re exhausted!
Reflect: As a leader, are you far enough ahead that your team is following, but close enough that they’re not feeling left behind or discouraged?