I watched her colt-like legs fly across the country club turf, churning past the field of rainbow arrayed runners in blazing school colors from across the state. I held my breath as she approached the rain slicked wooden bridge and sent my heart with her as she neared the end of the state cross-country meet on the rainy, windy, slippery Huron Country Club course. Long red hair a streaming banner in the surging melee’, big green eyes focused and determined, she sprinted impossibly the last few yards…then flew across the finish line.
A dark haired man broke through the throngs at the finish, grabbed her shoulders as she staggered off the course; with tears shining on both faces I heard him cry, “Did I ever lie to you? Did I ever lie to you? Top Ten, Erin, you made it! Top Ten!” He held her close for a moment, both spent, both drained, both lost in the wonder of a perfect race. The tall slender teenager, with mud spattered legs, one gashed and bloodied from an errant spike… the rebel coach, his unruly mane caught in the signature pony tail, were a study in two sides of competition. She had responded to the demands of his coaching, and he had ‘run’ with her the mental and emotional distance. The win was in the doing, it was a heart stopping moment.
It was a long time ago; she was only in 9th grade. Running varsity in the state meet, she’d placed back in the pack the year before, and her coach had told her then that she was top ten material; I don’t think she believed until that marvelous moment when he celebrated her amazing victory.
And what did it mean to be Top Ten? Well, it meant that she was 7th fastest girl in the state of South Dakota, and that her time placed her at 13th in the top 25 runners in the United States. It meant to her that she now had All American status. It meant that she had helped her team to win another state championship, and it meant that she was far better than she thought she was…information directly transferable to other life situations, athletic or otherwise. It meant that hard work and mega miles paid a big dividend. But mostly it meant that she had lived up to the expectations and belief of her beloved coach and mentor. He made her work, was relentless in pushing her to the potential she didn’t know she had, never let her ease up and give less than what he knew was within her capabilities. She still remembers, still pulls it up in time of need. That someone believed, someone saw what she did not, and someone took the time and effort to insist that she realize that potential, not just realize, but realize and actualize. A gift of time and effort, he was draconian yet nurturing. And she responded.
Now I listen to her tell of her students in a middle school on Nantucket Island. And I hear Flaag’s voice again in her stories about kids who didn’t know they could sing. Didn’t realize the power of a splendid voice. Didn’t understand that you can take a gift, a talent, and through hard work and persistence, make it a “10” quality. She’s tough on them, tough but caring, and they love her. Amazing things are happening, and the beauty is that it was there all the time. It just took a ‘coach’ who knew what to look for, and knew how to build on it, and believed in the person and the process.
We’re all ‘top ten’ really, we all have gifts and talents and skills and abilities we either don’t recognize or are afraid to access. Sometimes it’s easier to be the audience/cheerleader--- and we all have to take our turn at that--- but the real fun, the real energy, the real power, is having the courage to run our own race, live our own life, do our own ‘thing’.
Take a look at your ‘druthers’. Have you really done what you want to do? Have you taken that latent gift and explored it, worked with it, nurtured it? It’s not too late…look at Grandma Moses. Pick up a paint brush, learn to play the guitar, join the choir, or what-the-hey….register for a marathon. Top Ten is a designation, not a destination.