Our son was stillborn. The terror of that day is burnt into my memory like a scar. There were complications and then an emergency c-section. Alexander emerged a sort of greenish blue.
In that moment before the hospital staff flew into a frenzy of action, I said something I have always regretted. “I didn’t expect him to look like that.” Even as the words left my lips, I realized how foolish they sounded and how true they were.
The hospital staff rushed our newborn son out a backdoor into a secret room. Earlier, a young nursing student had taken my phone and promised to take pictures as if that were a normal thing to do. Now, she walked over and slid the phone into the breast pocket of my scrubs and walked away without a word.
I did not know scrubs had breast pockets. I certainly was unaware that mine did until that moment. I even wondered if that was what the pocket was for, to hold the cell phone of grieving fathers.
And then my wife and I were alone in the operating room with our worst fears. We prayed. We prayed for the doctors and nurses, but also very specifically for our son to keep fighting and not quit. A few minutes later someone came in and announced he was alive.
We were not out of the woods, but little by little, day by day, our son got stronger. Fifteen years passed, and Alexander was headed to high school. My wife wanted him to participate in a sport. One day she suggested cross country. Other parents said great things about the coaches, and there were no cuts for freshmen.
The day of the first meet we were uncertain what to expect. We waited at the finish line. The flood of runners slowed to a trickle. And then we were alone again at a different sort of finish line. We prayed. We prayed for our son to keep fighting and not quit.
And then emerging from a haze of dust raised by a thousand pounding feet came Alexander. Most kids acknowledge the finish. Some throw their arms up as they cross the line. Some sprint the final yards. Some collapse in a panting heap. Alexander did none of these things. His pace neither quickened as he approached the finish nor slowed once he passed. He just kept plodding along toward the comfort of the team tent.
Little by little, day by day, we watched our son grow stronger and faster. Every morning he went to school early for practice. He seemed to like it.
We started to love getting up early on Saturday morning to head to the meets. Everyone in the PVXC community was so encouraging and positive. It was like a big family built around the idea that the goal was not so much to win as to get better.
Then one day, at a place prophetically called “New World,” something amazing happened. His teammates had gathered to cheer our son on as he finished the race, and as the minutes passed, they sought me out asking where he was. He had finished several minutes earlier, smashing his personal best. He ran even faster at JV Championships. In all, he would improve his time by 11 minutes over the course of the season.
There is something magical going on at Ponte Vedra High School. The very notion that you can get a busload of over 100 kids, daily assaulted by a plethora of electronic stimuli, to get up before dawn in order run through the reclaimed swamps of Florida is astounding. But getting them to love it? That’s a miracle.
As the season went on, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “This is the stuff that champions are made of. This is the stuff of legends.” I shared that thought with some of the coaches. I told them there was a state championship in their future. And like that day in the hospital, my words now seem a little foolish. That very year, they won their first. The Ponte Vedra Girls team won the state title. The secret of the girl’s success according to head coach Rob Circelli is that “they work together, for each other.”
Ponte Vedra Cross Country changed our son’s life. It gave him a sense of place and purpose in a confusing world. The running is great. The life lessons are priceless. It can change your son or daughter’s life also. All they have to do is commit to running the good race.
Ponte Vedra Cross Country (PVXC) is hosting their annual parent/athlete information meeting on Tuesday, May 3, in the high school auditorium from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Coach Circelli suggests that you show up ready to “try to strive for greatness for yourself and those you call teammate.”
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