I admit I’ve been letting myself get out of shape, so when my 9-year old son Jason asked me to take part in a jogathon that his primary school, St Joseph’s (Kuching, Sarawak) was organizing, I was less than enthusiastic about the idea.
True my left knee had been hurting me for awhile causing me to abort my last three jogging attempts, but that was a month ago. Even last night, concerned about the knee, concerned that I had done absolutely nothing to prepare for the race, other than deciding what to wear, I was not all that keen to go. Meanwhile my wife kept urging me to go to bed since I had to wake up at 5:30 am; already it was past 10.
The alarm went off; I didn’t hear it but I felt my wife shaking me and threatening to throw me out of bed. I took a shower to wake up, woke up Jason, stretched for about a minute and was out the door by 6 am. I had assured myself that if my knee gave out just a little, I was bailing out. No need to push myself into an early wheelchair. Then I saw the trophies on display and thought, as a proud father, how nice it would be if Jason won one of those.
The race began by categories, primary one and two and the women ran first. Primary three and four and the men ran second. Primary five and six, last. While waiting to start, I sized up the competition, the other fathers in particular. Most looked to be in far better shape and much younger than me, in their 20s and 30s. A couple of the guys you could tell were runners; they had that mean and lean and hungry for a trophy look about them. Two in particular had the race won before we even began.
The rest of us were anyone’s guess. At our age and fitness level we might put up a good show by showing up in branded sweat suits only to get winded by bending down to retie our shoes. I told Jason don’t start off in a sprint; that’s what the showoffs do to impress their friends (and wives); we all know the story of the tortoise and the hare, so I won’t go into detail.
I began the race at a comfortable pace, the four leaders way ahead of me but in eyesight. Then I lost sight of them completely. I kept my steady pace, passing the occasional kid who had burned himself out on the opening sprint. Then about half way I passed a guy and I thought, no way, wasn’t he one of the four who were miles ahead of me? That gave me hope.
Then I saw Jason and caught up to him and thought, good he can keep me company, and for a short while he did as we passed another of the leading men. Further ahead I could barely glimpse the two hares. But there was no one, other than a bunch of kids, separating us, giving me hope.
But Jason was fading.
“Daddy, wait,” he said, and I waved at him, urging him to keep my pace. I felt torn actually, but I knew that all I had to do was hang in there and I had a legitimate shot at the bronze trophy, so long as my stamina, my knee, and my shoe laces held up. Of course, I should’ve done a better job tying those laces. In fact, I gave Jason double knots to prevent any potential disasters.
I kept looking over my shoulder to see if Jason was getting a second wind and to see if anyone else was sneaking up on me. Meanwhile I kept thinking that running a race is a whole lot like writing a novel. Far too many writers sprint through those early pages, even writing a chapter or two before they burn themselves out. Slow and steady may not win the race, but it would get me to the finish line, and if I stepped it up, who knows the outcome, as in the recent Faulkner-Wisdom contest.
Then there it was the finish line. Ignoring my loosening laces, I pressed on (it’s always better to have a strong finish than a great start that piddles out). The organizers flagged me down and stuck a third place sticker on my sweaty shirt. I felt so proud. I held up the family honor. I felt proud for Jason, too, when he came in 8th place for his category and would receive a medal too, so we would both come home with a prize.
Later, Jason admitted that he was disappointed that I didn’t stay back with him, but he sure looked proud that I won a trophy. He showed it off to his friends, no doubt telling them, “He may be old (and white) but he can run!”
My wife was impressed, too, but then added, “I thought you didn’t want to go?”
“Well someone has to win a trophy around here,” I said. Besides, as a father it’s my job to lead by example, so long as the laces and the knees hold up. I also wanted some revenge on Jason for beating me in chess! So there is hope for me yet; for him, too. Pretty soon he’ll be creaming me in everything, but for now, I’m holding my own—my own trophy high above my head.
—Borneo Expat Writer