Behold the tiny champions. My children completed training with a running club at their school and then this past weekend ran in a one-mile kids race. In the rain. During pollen season. Even without the extra complications it would still be a HUGE deal. I am so proud of them!
My children have been slowly losing interest in physical activity despite parental encouragement (or maybe because of it). Part of that is because organized sports create a great deal of anxiety for them, even though we started them out on teams very young. They have gotten bored with our small cul-de-sac and tiny backyard (suburbia is not always idyllic). There is also a shortage of boys for them to play with on our street that are NOT doing some sort of organized game. My oldest has asthma and my youngest is on the Autism Spectrum, so sometimes that can further complicate exercise or play (many a day my boys came back inside with tears streaming down their faces). My husband and I have endured a lot of frustration trying to figure out how to best encourage them to be more active and spend more time outside. And don’t bother trying to judge us & say, “Stop making excuses and get those kids outside!” Just don’t. Moving on…
We received a flier about a running club at their school and found it intriguing. It would meet for two months on Saturday mornings in preparation for a 1 mile kids run that was the same day as a 10k in our area. Our youngest has a natural ability for running but has needed encouragement, and we knew it would be great for our oldest’s lungs. We announced to the children what we were doing, why it was important, and that we wanted them to be positive about it and not complain. I was actually pleasantly surprised at how well they took the news. The first practice was in February, it was COLD, it was difficult, and my children were a bit frustrated at their performance compared to their peers. We got out there with our kids and said positive things to them as they “ran” (sometimes there was more walking at first). My oldest got upset in the middle and wanted to stop, but I encouraged him to keep moving, saying “You don’t have to run, but just KEEP MOVING! No matter what, don’t stop!” When that first mile was over we were all proud, and we reminded the boys that every time they got out there it will get a little bit easier. The energy and positive atmosphere at the practice was wonderful and really helped encourage the the runners. We also found that when we actually ran a course it was a lot easier for the boys than the monotony of laps.
Multiple Saturday morning practices rolled by and the day of the race drew nearer. There were some setbacks because of weather, and the boys felt frustrated that after missing a practice it seemed harder when they got back into it. We just tried to encourage them to keep pushing forward. We also let our oldest miss one week because of a cold, even though he probably could have run. Our reasoning was that he was already sensitive to the fact that most of his classmates were faster, and congestion with breathing difficulties would slow him down even more. We didn’t want to set him for embarrassment and discouragement if he was already not feeling well. We try to walk the fine line between being aware of his sensitivities and pushing him appropriately. The next week when he was feeling better he had a much more positive attitude, so I think we made the right call. Our focus was never winning, it was just MOVING and trying. We explained to them that if they continued to keep trying then it would continue to get easier and easier as they got stronger and stronger, but it takes time. You just have to keep moving! Running club was full of life lessons like that.
By the end of training both boys had shaved six minutes off their time, my youngest was able to run a mile without stopping for the first time in his life, and my oldest ALMOST could. For boys who shirk from any kind of strenuous exercise this was HUGE deal. They had their best run ever the Saturday before the race and were THRILLED by their performance. Their school had an assembly and they all processed in to the sounds of “The Eye of the Tiger” wearing their running club t-shirts. The High School basketball team and cheerleaders were also there and formed a clapping, cheering human tunnel for the runners to go through. My husband and I attended to show our boys how proud we were. It was wonderful, but there was still one problem. The forecast for Race Day was calling for RAIN.
Rain. Ugh. Both my boys have sensory issues and can find even walking in the rain to be overwhelming. They couldn’t even handle DISNEY in the rain, and cried to leave. I wondered how a race in the rain would go, since the running itself was already such a huge accomplishment. Some of you might be rolling your eyes at this point, saying “Oh PLEASE,” thinking I am babying them. I assure you that certain situations can be VERY overwhelming for someone who struggles with sensory processing and anxiety. My husband and I constantly find ourselves in situations of trying to walk the fine line between respecting our children’s boundaries and helping them grow. We always want to encourage, not coddle them, but we also don’t want to push them too far. I have seen what happens when I push them too far and it is UGLY. At first the boys felt worried and said they didn’t want to run in the rain. Then after the incredible assembly they felt more optimistic, and the forecast also changed from a thunderstorm-laced soaker to a light drizzle. I reminded them how hard they had worked, and stated it would be a shame if a little rain kept them from running with the rest of the team. They decided they could do it, and that in itself made me incredibly proud.
Race day arrived and we were all PUMPED. There was a constant light mist but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits. We met up with the school’s running club for pictures and some warm-ups. When it was time to line up the boys were incredibly excited. My oldest was near the front with a friend, and my youngest was behind in the next wave with his Dad. I loved watching their expressions as the race began, but that was nothing compared to the sheer joy on their faces as they finished. The boys were ecstatic that they had been able to run at a good pace AND they had a good time doing it. It was a pleasant surprise to them that the race almost seemed easy, and my youngest even proclaimed, “I LIKE running!’ It was a victory for our whole family that the boys had been able to keep at it, overcome obstacles, and achieve their goals. It didn’t matter to them who won, because they knew that even finishing the race was a victory. They felt like champions. And champions they were.