I remember being at Disneyland years ago in line for Space Mountain one early-access morning. A father carried his son, who mustn’t have been much older than four, out the exit past us. The boy was bawling. I don’t remember who it was, but someone asked whether it was just too early to make that his first ride of the day. “It’s his first ever ride at Disneyland,” the father replied. What a dummy, I thought. Here you have a land literally designed for children and instead of easing them into it so they will create a lifetime of fond memories, you risk spoiling it on Day One by being careless.
Similar thoughts rushed to my head at the TRY Events Fort Langley Historic Half Kids’ Race on Sunday as my two-year-old son and I caught up to our four-year-old daughter, who sat crying with her mom beside the cement running path nursing two skinned knees.
It was our kids’ first experience running in an organized race, something they have seen us do with growing regularity this year. It was their chance for an introduction to a sport we hope can bring them enjoyment and improved fitness for a lifetime, as I’ve written about before. And it started out well.
Hours after my wife finished her half-marathon, with the course empty, the adults dispersed, and most of the vendors packed up and gone, the organizers gathered the kids to explain how the race would work. Each child chose a number of colored Popsicle sticks corresponding to the number of laps of the 300-meter course they wished to run. At the conclusion of each lap, each runner dropped one stick in the organizer’s bag and carried on. When all their sticks were delivered, they would receive a medal as congratulations. My daughter took two sticks. My son took one and snapped it in half after about ten seconds.
The whole group of kids, about thirty in total, posed for photos and were led through a half-serious, half-silly group warmup. Then they were all led to the starting line to prepare for the air-horn blast that would start them off. Our daughter ran up ahead of us; I followed behind with our son. And so our order remained until about the half-way point of our first lap, when she took her fall.
“Keep going,” Joy told me as I slowed down to see what was wrong, “she’ll be okay.”
And as soon as my son and I delivered his two Popsicle stick shards and he was presented his medal, our daughter came racing past.
She’d been offered the choice to stop racing. “No, ” she told my wife through her tears, “I want to keep running.” And she was off again. Soon past us at the finish line, delivering Stick One, and on to her second lap. Joy kept pace with her through the little downhill stretch where she’d lost her footing the first time around. No issue on Lap Two. “I’m running like the wind!”, she exclaimed.
My son and I were ready with our camera as she came up the final push toward the finish line for the last time. I snapped a few photos. She has a big smile in every one, dwarfed only by the smiles she shared later that day, still wearing her racing bib and gold medal until bath time.
We were really proud of our kids this weekend. Our daughter showed more resilience than I’ve seen from her, because even she wanted her first race to be special. And now she’s asking to come along to our next race, the TRY Events Vancouver Hot Chocolate Run on March 7, 2015.