For 40 years I have had the privilege of being involved in the coaching of high school cross-country and track athletes. As a minister it has been an extension of my ministry and has allowed me to mentor, influence and help young people to reach achievements that they never would have been able to do on their own. It has been a most rewarding experience.
There is nothing more rewarding than to set goals and watch a young person reach a goal they never would have dreamed could happen. Over the years I have been blessed of the Lord to share in many wonderful memories of watching individuals and teams reach lofty heights and win many championships of various kinds. They all were achieved through hard work. I continually stress to those I am privileged to coach if you want it you have to earn it through perseverance. There are no shortcuts to being a champion.
Back in June the boys and girls cross country teams at Elkin High School set a goal to be Mountain Valley Athletic Conference Champions. There were 8 schools that had the same goal. It was a lofty goal as that was an achievement that Elkin had never done both winning the conference title in the same year. As the smallest school in the conference, we don’t have as many runners as some of the larger schools. But what I do have are hard working kids who are willing to do what others will not do in order to be champions.
While we won all the regular season conference meets we participated in during the year, they were all wins that were close. My daily advice was that we had to keep working to get better, for winning is like trying to catch an elusive butterfly. I did my best to help them never lose sight of their pre-season goal.
The day of the conference championship arrived, October 14, but because of heavy rains the meet was postponed a day. The delayed day only intensified our nervousness. The boys were defending champions, the girls had never won it. They wanted to get at it…and get at it together.
The next day, after a long bus ride to Ashe County, where the meet was to be held, we got off the bus knowing it was going to be a close meet that was going to be decided by a few points one way or the other. We knew we could run very well and possibly still not win, but if we didn’t run well we knew we wouldn’t win. So there was no alternative, we had to run well. The course was muddy from two days of rain, but since we practice in all kinds of weather I figured that would favor us.
After four months of practicing in the heat of the summer, sometimes in the rain, practice six days a week, dealing with nagging aches and pains, the moment had come. The Elkin runners now stood on the starting line eagerly waiting for the gun to sound to begin the 5K (3.1 mile) race. As the pistol cracked in the still air, all the runners took off at a torrid pace, jockeying for position. One thing I knew for sure the Elkin runners would give their best effort……and they did.
To make a long story short, when the dust settled from both the boys and girls races the Elkin runners raced like they had been trained to and had dug deep inside of themselves to capture two close wins. The boys winning 52-58 and the girls winning 56-59 (low score wins in cross-country). They were now experiencing the joy of reaching a goal. They were experiencing the reward of hard work. They were reaping the fruit of discipline and persistence. I could not have been more proud of them. Matter of fact, their accomplishment brought me to tears and in a voice filled with emotion I said to them of their superb efforts, “A job well done.” For my desire for them had been that they might experience the joy of being a champion. Only those who work hard have that opportunity to experience the jubilation of reaching such a goal.
I have often said that running is a microcosm of life. I seek to teach my athletes that running is like life, you get out of life what you put into it. If you set goals and work hard good things happen. We may not always reach our goals, but we come a lot closer than if we have no goals at all. And if you keep setting goals and working toward them in time you will reap abundant fruit from your labor. We must ever be diligent, persistent, consistent, and determined if we are going to overcome obstacles and hurdles that arise in our lives. But good things happen to those who don’t give up and are persistent. Keep at it and don’t throw in the towel. As your Heavenly Coach speaks words of encouragement to you, dig deep within and you will find His strength to continue racing toward the finishline.
Like the Apostle Paul we must keep pressing toward the goal of being all the Lord wants us to be and do. That is a lifelong journey and commitment. Keep on keeping on and on that Final Day we will discover the joy of reaching our Goal and hearing the Master say, “A job well done.”