As races go, it was pretty nondescript. It was a local 5K with a small crowd and a cotton t-shirt as the only schwag. It was far from my fastest 5K and only about two minutes faster than my slowest. So what made it so great? The company.
Our daughter Maayan is the 4th of our seven children, and thus, the dreaded middle child. I think we treat her pretty well, but I think she sometimes feels that she doesn't get enough attention. Sunday was her chance to shine. Despite the fact that she never ran more than a mile before, she said she wanted to run the 5K. I was impressed by her spunk and I already know about her tough spirit, so, despite my concerns about an 8 year-old running that far, I agreed. I knew she'd have to walk part of it, and maybe even most of it, and I figured we'd be out there for about 45 minutes, with a pretty good chance to finish last. I expected there to be other kids there, but I assumed they'd be better trained. I was a bit concerned when Maayan said she didn't want to be last.
We got to the race and signed up. Maayan looked both adorable and beautiful with her long hair pulled back in a ponytail, her skirt, winter jacket and gloves. It didn't hurt that she has a smile that can melt my heart. As we waited on the starting line, it occurred to me that she was the youngest by six or seven years. Then, as the Mayor blew the air horn, we were off.
She started out at a pretty good pace, running the first half mile at less than 10 minutes per mile pace. We both knew she couldn't hold that pace the whole time, but I let her choose when to run and how fast. We were towards the back, but a funny thing happened. Every time we took a walking break and the people behind us got closer, Maayan took off. She was, as usual, very determined. As we ran the course, which went through a section of town where most people are Hispanic immigrants, Maayan quickly became a favorite. People on the side smiled and called out “La Niña” and “La Primera”, which even I understood, despite my anemic Spanish skills. Despite becoming increasingly tired, particularly when we hit a couple of hills towards the end, Maayan refused to quit.
As we neared the finish line, I looked at my Garmin and realized that she was going to beat the time that I ran at my first 5K, nearly five years before, by a couple of minutes. She sprinted across the line with a giant smile on her face, finishing in 33:39. A number of people many times her age finished afterward.
As we waited for the awards ceremony, I hoped against hope that they would give her an award. I didn't dare say anything to her about it, as I didn't want her to be disappointed. As the Mayor got up to speak, people came over to congratulate her, giving her high-fives and even took her picture. Suddenly the mayor said “Before I give out the trophies to the winners, I'd like to call up someone who inspired all of us today”. As it dawned on Maayan who he was referring to, she perfectly combined 8 year-old shyness, with pride. Needless to say, the whole crowd broke out in applause.
I suspect she has many faster days ahead of her, and I expect that she and I will run more races together. I doubt any of them will be more special to me than this one.