It begins with a one-hour plane ride from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Copenhagen, Denmark. Our tiny school has rallied 14 competitors for the annual track and field NECIS tournament this weekend. They join 555 athletes in the Danhostel where they will sleep and from where they will be bussed to the stadium venue each day.
One thing we consistently claim, is that our athletes “have heart” – they give it their all, even in the face of finishing last place.
One student was running the 3000 meter race and she stumbled and doubled over about 2000 m into the race. Then she did it again. She was lapped twice by the first place contender, yet she kept running. Tears sprung to my eyes as I saw her struggle to finish. It wasn’t until she was back in the bleachers that I found out she had actually vomited twice during the run. As she said, “probably something funny I ate last night”. With a smile on her face she reported that she’ll run track next year and she doesn’t regret her race today. Wow.
The team had a smattering of placing from dead last to first place and everything in-between. The spectators consistently cheered all athletes and I must say, some of those last places received the biggest ovation. It just fills me with pride to see our little athletes running, jumping, and throwing with all their heart, a smile on their faces, and joy in the success of athletes all around them.
It wasn’t all losses, in fact our team of 14 managed to collect 22 medals (bronze, silver, and gold). Several students broke school records, including a senior who either set or broke four school records! Amazingly, in shot-put he broke an 11-year old school record in his first throw and then with each subsequent throw increased the distance, reaching a goal he's been working on for two years. An 11th grader who has never participated in track and field before this season medaled in all four of her events (three bronzes and a silver). The 10th grader who earned a bronze medal in the 200 m race set a personal best time. One of our 6th graders, a slight young girl, beat out 20 other competitors for a gold medal in the ball throw. It was an incredible weekend.
So, we saw today that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Our team of 14 faced teams with 54, even 72 athletes! Yet, we still offered competition and earned our share of medals. One of the coaches from a bigger team came over to us and commented, “I’m doing the math here and if our team were like yours, we’d be walking away with over 100 medals and that’s not happening.” Smiles abounded on our coaches’ faces and our athletes sat tall with pride.
The best part, however, is the team spirit. The eagerness with which all of our team left their seats in the bleachers to be at the trackside to cheer fellow teammates on is touching. The effort each athlete put out on the track and field is inspiring. The true joy in the victory of others is compassionate. The celebration and wonder of excellent athleticism is sportsmanlike. It’s an honor to spend a weekend with these individuals.