erfect, teams assembled, and strategy designed for our girls as they stood at the starting line on their second-to-last cross country meet of the year, last week. Lilli, feeling the confidence from an astounding second season’s performance was sure that she would not only medal but could possibly pull out a win if she played her cards right. The days leading up to the event, she repeatedly described to her mother and I that she was happy that her hard work had paid off and she would medal in each race this year. Disregarding our warnings about becoming overconfident, Lilli maintained her view, shrugging off our warnings as misguided or simply the views of old people who really didn’t know.
As the race began, the girls maintained their positioning as was normally seen in the previous races. Midway, it was apparent Lilli was struggling as the race took a unique turn with the athletes failing to thin out near the front. As the runners began racing across the finish line it was apparent that our little runner would not medal on this day.
I struggled to catch a glimpse of Lilli to no avail. As Riyann crossed the line, touting a personal best finish, I could then move to the area the students were assembled. Providing support and congratulations to Riyann, my heart was softened by the smile on her face. It was then that I felt the tight grasp of Lilli as she grabbed on tightly to my waist, burying her head in my side.
Feeling her disappointment, I attempted to console her through explaining that winning a medal is not the gauge for success. I explained that if she knew she gave it her all then she was successful. Looking up, she described that she simply didn’t understand. “I didn’t medal daddy; I had my strategy down and I just couldn’t do it.” As we spoke the agony of defeat was evident for this little girl who had become accustomed to a great deal of success. It seemed no amount of encouragement was going to lessen the sting for her and seated in silence, eyes closed, while the medals were awarded, Lilli became a true legend in her daddy’s eyes. Lifting her head high, the child congratulated the girls who had beat her and carried on, pinpointing what went wrong and planning her strategy for the next race.
I remembered my own experiences during my childhood where it was a relative certainty that I would win and did not. For Lilli, her grief was short lived as she immediately decided she disliked the feelings she was experiencing and became determined to overcome in the next race. The key, as her mother guided, was not to overcompensate.
Life carries loss, pain, and events which bring forth disaster in our eyes. The key is to recognize our loss, pick ourselves up, and be reserved to the fact that we will make it through the pain to win again on another day.
Richard J. Stephens lives in Carter County and is the father of three little ladies ranging in age from eight to 29.