On a recent Autumn Saturday, Pat and I drove a tad more than four hours to watch a cross country race that lasted a tad more than 16 minutes.
Of those few minutes, we were able to see our grandson, Aaron, for less than 20 seconds. It was an exciting race.
Aaron has done well this year, finished second in conference and regional competitions, set several new personal records and trained hard for this meet — State.
He was excited, to say the least, and set a lofty goal to finish in the top 15 and earn All-State honors. He finished 29th last year, respectable, he thought, for a sophomore.
We watched the start, rushed across the field to where the runners would pass near the one-mile mark. Aaron was running strong, near the front. The field, the large school class, consisted of 202 athletes from across Tennessee.
We rushed back across the field to wait at the finish line. We caught a glimpse of Aaron on the backside of the course, about two-thirds of the way through the 3.1-mile course.
We waited anxiously for the finish. His teammate Jeb, a senior, a strong runner, conference and regional champion, was near the front and finished fifth.
Aaron topped the last rise, dropped into a small depression and headed toward the finish line, situated at the top of the final hill, a cruel end to a grueling race. We could see the determination and the anguish on his face as he pushed to the end.
He finished 20th, having left everything he had on that 3.1-mile test of endurance, grit and will. He was exhausted and as disappointed as I have ever seen him. He missed his goal by a few seconds.
His time was more than 20 seconds faster than last year. He finished ahead of 182 runners, but the last five who finished ahead of him stuck in his mind.
I wish that could be the worst disappointment he ever faces. It will not be. Life is filled with goals not quite achieved, ambitions not quite met.
We all know that. Farmers understand that hail, drought, and pests can destroy a year’s efforts. We miss out on jobs we hoped to get. Picnics get rained out.
I expect Aaron will hurt over this missed goal for a bit, but then put it away and set another, even loftier one and set about finding ways to reach it. Goals, after all, should be high enough to stretch our abilities.
That was Saturday. On Sunday, Aaron and Jeb were running, training for the next race.
I would have been ecstatic to see Aaron stand on the podium to receive an All-State medal. But I could not be more proud of him.