Back of the Pack

Back of the Pack

I recently had the opportunity to play hooky from FluidStance. I tagged along on my youngest son’s journey to the Jersey Mike’s Junior Lifeguard National Championships. It is essentially a day-long decathlon of beach challenges for junior lifeguards who have been training, ok playing, on the beach over the summer.

Historically, Henry (aka “Henners,” age 9) is competitive in our little beach town of Santa Barbara. Upon our toes hitting the sand at Hermosa, it quickly became apparent this was a different game. This is the land of LA County Lifeguard dynasties who make in excess of $500K. This was the beach equivalent of the highway we just got off. The only way to get anywhere is to claw your way into the fast lane. 

9 Year-Old Abs of Steel

It would have been easy to get to the first start line for nine year-olds and see the abs of steel around you and decide you were done before you started. Henners quietly shared he was nervous and wished he knew someone else in the competition. But he then did what most adults rarely do. In a place where he was outgunned and unfamiliar, he still put his toes on the start line – the proverbial edge, elbowing his way into the wall of LA County Lifeguard prodigies and took off as he always belonged.

He got dusted. Sand in the face. He was wheezing from the remnants of a two week chest cold when I first saw him approach the first finish. He was in the bottom 10% of the field and sucking the sea air like a grounded fish. I went over to him after he crossed the line expecting defeat in his eyes with an already rehearsed parental conversation that “you need to stick with the things we start.” Before I let go of our embrace and I could say my spiel, he looked up and said “that was hard. I did the best I could with the place I was in today.” 

Um, holy crap. I remember thinking “you just mastered what many of us adults try to achieve our whole lives.” Showing up on the edge, detaching from the outcome and simply giving everything you have at that place in time. To say I was proud was an understatement.

The day went on with similar results, but his nature rarely swayed. There was a moment while he and I body surfed in a gap in the schedule that he flirted with not doing the last big run-swim-run. But, after a couple of waves he looked to the sky and said, “we are here, I might as well see what I can do” and ran to the final start line. 

This old-man learned a ton from the little guy. Even when you find yourself at the back of the pack, there are lessons that will help you win the long game. A bumper sticker would read, the Joy is in the Journey. The locker room chat takeaway would be that the back of the pack is where resilience is built as long as you posses the mentality of detachment and leaving it all in the sand.

Bottom line: Here’s to putting yourself out there.

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