Yesterday was sports day at school. I was dreading it but it was a rather fun day all in all. The sun shone, an ice-cream van was in attendance, teachers’ energy levels peaked as they cheered relentlessly and troughed as they tried to sneak off for five minutes of peace and quiet. I wrote a little poem about the day here once I arrived home:

Boiling bussing, water-fights, fussing,
Racing, considering tactics and pacing,
Cheering for them (and the names of gems).
“Come on Rubies, you can do it!”
Shouting, until my voice is blitzed.
Student falls flat, who was that?
Up again, she made it to the end.

Sit down over there, who’s up next?
“Miss, I won, I was the best!”
Teachers sneak off for five minutes in the shade,
Ice-cream man retires on his takings for the day.
Don’t stand in front of the mega-phone guy,
Everyone takes part, even the shy.
Taking bets on the teachers’ race,
Getting all competitive; forget grace!
Drink more water, exhausted from the heat,
Home at last, my friends, I’m beat!

Something that I’ve been thinking about is that sentiment of ‘running the race’. Some of the students taking part were confident and very fast, others were lacking in both confidence and speed but were willing to give it a go. What I did notice though, was that when they passed our area on the track and we called out the names of those we were supporting, something happened. Their legs went faster. There was a noticeable change to the sometimes fatiguing faces that approached us to the determined expressions followed by increased speed as they went passed us. It made me think of how important it is to be encouraged on the journey and how we all need people to cheer us on and be there, on the sidelines, calling our names. There’s a reason it’s a cliche, it’s true.

One of the races yesterday was for the whole Learning Family (or form), to compete in a whole year group track race. Mine’s called ‘ruby’ and I’ve got to tell you, there’s something special about calling, “Come on, rubies, come on!”. Three times and three quarters around the track with twenty-four students, the teacher being the last one who stays with the last pupil. Now, secretly, I hate the thought of losing. I don’t think people would have me down as being fiercely competitive or anything but what they don’t know is that I’d rather do anything than be a loser. I gathered my learning family and talked tactics. The racers should race. We decided they should go for it and complete in the shortest time possible.  I had three less enthusiastic girls who said they were going to walk. I knew this was going to take all my enthusiasm, so I went for it. I told them I’d run with them, that I wouldn’t let them down, that I wouldn’t let them be last. ALL three girls said they’d run with me (in flip-flops, I’d like to add!).

The race starts, and our road-runners are gone in a matter of seconds. The four of us start jogging slowly and slowing to a walk when someone needs to. Then, something amazing starts happening. When we’re all ready, someone initiates the jogging again and then we all slow together. We started working as a unit. Part way through the unit started to take more pressure than it was designed for as one girl tried to drop out. The others started throwing out encouragement like it was free and she decided to continue. Another of my three runners decided her trainers were impeding her progress and instead of limping off, she kicked them off to the side of the track. I was impressed and because of her renewed enthusiasm, I had another burst of energy and started off the next little jog to the finish line. This experience yesterday made me think of what it’s really like to ‘accompany’ in life. I’ve written a little more about accompanying here.

Earlier in the day, I was shouting from the sidelines until I was hoarse but I had no idea what the runners were feeling. In the learning family race, I was with students and facing the same conditions they were to some extent, so was better equipped to understand them and help them move on. We need people to cheer from the sidelines, I’m not saying that’s an inadequate picture, but there’s a closeness that comes from running alongside that cannot be dismissed. There’s something in being just as hot and sweaty as those you’re running alongside. The conversation might be short (and breathless at times), but there’s an honesty that surfaces when your brain needs more oxygen. At the end of that race, we definitely knew each other better and had accomplished something together.

I’m going to try to let that seep in over the next few days as I finish up here and turn my energy to Double Me. That’s the picture I want to see for Double Me too. Not just shouting bursts of encouragement from the sidelines, but going, seeing and experiencing life alongside teachers and parents who will hopefully become friends we run the race with.

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