Measure of a Champion

So let 'er rip, Cowboy!  And hang on tight,
Go for the prize with all your might!
But the measure of a champion ain't how long you hang on,

It's what you do.........when you get thrown.

Words from one of my favorite Mike Dekle songs.  Love the story in the song, the life lesson it proclaims.  The measure of a champion....what you do when you get thrown.

Great life lesson but it's hard to remember when you're in the midst of a freefall.  Or sitting in the dirt from being thrown off.  And especially hard to remember that lesson when you get up to walk and find you've broken a rib.  But the real problem with this life lesson is that you can only really learn it through experience.  I much prefer learning life's lessons from The Book.  Or at least from a lecture.  But really, a field trip is the only classroom that teaches this one.

I got to observe during one of those field trips recently.  And although I was only a secondary student, I will never forget what I observed that day.....nor what I learned.  From my kid.

My Betsy is a good swimmer.  Actually, she's really good.  She's got the long legs/long torso that swim coaches say make for a great swimmer.  (Note:  not only did I NOT contribute to her anatomical DNA, I also did NOT contribute a single athletic gene towards her success. oh well.  Hooray for Daddy!)  Not only is she well suited physically to be a swimmer, the kid is so teachable, works really hard, and loves to compete.  Hence, she had a great season this summer.  It was a lot of fun.  From watching Paul and me at the meets, you'd have thought we had something to do with her success!  We were enjoying it immensely!!

Then came the final competition.  The County Meet.  She was a sure thing.  She had beaten all the other 10 year old girls in the breast stroke all season.  Handily.  We were nervous but humbly confident.  (I THINK that's a possible attitude.......) The race came, and she did not disappoint.  She beat the other swimmers by nearly two body lengths (two LOOOOONG body lengths). It was so exciting!  She climbed out of that pool with a grin as wide as the lap she just swam.  We were all rejoicing, so thankful, so proud......except for one thing.  I had been too nervous to watch anything except Betsy in the race.  So I asked Mary to watch the stroke judge.  Just tell me if she raises her hand at the end, I instructed.  With one eye on Betsy, I turned the other one to Big Sister Mary.  She informed me that the woman had indeed raised her hand.  (I believe there was fire in Mary's eyes at that moment - note to self:  once Betsy has been consoled, be sure that Mary does not harm the stroke judge). 

Betsy's jubilation lasted less than 5 minutes.  She came to us in the stands and we promptly took her away from the crowds where her heart burst into a million pieces.  We let her sob and sob and sob.  She declared she was never going to swim again. Many kind friends (adults and children alike) whispered sweet words of solace to her.  (My favorite was the sage advice given to her by a friend of mine -" Never mind the judge, Betsy - we all saw you win that race!")  She continued to sob softly.  Not wailing loudly, mind you.  If she had done that, we would have taken her home!  But sobbing with no hope of cessation.  That happens when your heart breaks.  The damwater of emotion rushes out in a flood and atttempts to stop it are about as successful as using Lincoln logs to hold back Niagara Falls.

We held her.  Whispered assurances of love and affirmation.  Kissed the tears.  Then, I said, "That's enough.  You have another race to swim.  You are going to get up and wash your face and lift your head and go swim butterfly."  She protested , to which I replied, "Betsy, those 19 seconds do NOT define you.  But how you respond to this does.  And you are going to swim that race.  It matters not how well you swim but you are going to swim it." And we got up and did just that.

Betsy got thrown that day.  But she came out a champion because, when she got thrown, she got back up.  She dusted herself off and she went out again. And even managed to smile. 

And, for the record, she came in second in the butterly race.  A very close second.  And, when the results were tallied, her team won.....barely won.  The margin of victory was equal to the points Betsy earned in that final race - the one she almost didn't swim.  The measure of a champion, indeed.

Oh, and a postscript on Mary.  Well, let's just say that stroke judge narrowly escaped that day.  I still don't consider it safe for Mary to know her contact info......Just sayin......