For two years in high school I participated in one of the most demented sports ever invented – cross country running. I was a part of a varsity team from the now defunct Mendon-Union High School. Our sport required us to run two miles in a competition with other schools. Although there were more than 20 runners on our team, only the top five to seven finishers actually provided scores for the event. The first runner across the finish line scored one point, the second one two, and so on. The winning team had the lowest combined score.
A cross country match is not run on a track in a stadium surrounded by cheering fans. It is run over a course laid out on golf courses, quiet back roads, or simply across fields – wherever two miles could be mapped out and monitored. The finish line was where the crowd gathered, usually milling about in relative comfort while the runners labored with aching arms, churning guts, and pounding hearts to turn in the fast time. In those days something in the nine minute range usually won. I ran closer to twelve. A cross country race was not a sprint but a mini-marathon with a mad sprint at the very end to enter the mouth of the chute that formed a finish line.
In the case of most of our time, we did not run for the love of the sport but because it was required of any of us who desired to pursue the favored sport at our high school – basketball. Our basketball coach operated an offense filled with fast breaks, full court pressure, and all sorts of stamina demanding tactics kept up constantly for the full 32 minutes of a game. Its goal was to wear down bigger teams and taller opponents. That required a conditioning best produced by the discipline of cross country. Hence, if you wanted to be on the basketball team you were automatically on the cross country team as well. As I said, few of us ran for the love of running.
Except for Blaine. Blaine Edwards was quiet farm boy with a wry smile and gentle demeanor that could leave him unnoticed in the world of boisterous jocks and so-called athletes. As a basketball player, he was not one of the stars but on the cross country course he was a superstar. Blaine was one of the fastest runners in our league, and in the state.
Blaine was not surrounded by great runners, but some of us weren’t half bad. In almost every meet, Blaine would finish first; but our next contender was probably a seven or eighth place; the bulk of the team in double digit positions. In dual or three-way meets, if our first digit was a one we often won, especially because of Blaine’s solitary one.
Blaine knew that, too. Despite his star status, cross country was a team sport. So when Blaine crossed the finish line, he would quickly catch his breath and return to the top of the chute. As one of us would run down it, he would run alongside us outside the rope encouraging and cheering us all the way. Then he would return and wait for the next runner and repeat the process until all five scorers had crossed the line. One of the few times I was that final runner, it was only Blaine’s encouragement that reinforced my waning energy and will that got me across the line to be a part of winning the prize.
One of the core values of the Christian faith is encouragement. It is the belief that we are in this life together. When one suffers all suffer. When one wins, we all win. Although we will not all win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus, we believe that we should contribute to as many achieving that prize as possible.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” – I Thessalonians 5:11
(c) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn