I want to have the title of the fastest person in the world. I would love to beat Usain Bolt of Jamaica at the 100 meter race. Being the fastest person is a desire that I’ve had since childhood that’s recently re-surfaced thanks to the Olympics. This week I watched Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa set a world record in the men’s 400-meter race with a time of 43.03 seconds. As I watched him go super fast I imagined myself running beside him and found I was thinking like my childish self: I could run that fast if I really wanted to.
I’ve always enjoyed racing. I tend to do everything as fast as possible. Part of that is because I get bored so easily with routine and just want to get irritating requirements of life over with as quickly as possible. Part of it is because I have a lot that I want to accomplish and I need to go about things in chop-chop fashion to get through my to-do list. But the main explanation for my need for speed is because my dad encouraged me to go really fast when I was young.
When I was preschool age, often when my older brother and I would be watching television, my dad would burst into the living room saying, “I’ll race ya’ to the ditch!” My brother and I would excitedly jump off the couch, shut off the television, and head out the front door. We would line up in front of the house. I would stare at the ditch, which seemed really really far away to my 4 year-old mind. I would think about how fast I needed to go to get there first. Someone would say, “Ready? Get set. Go!” Then the three of us would race across the front yard toward the road. Each of us would pour all of our energy into the goal of being the first to get to the ditch. I never won because my dad and brother were so much taller than me, but racing against them helped me develop the ability to pour on the speed when I wanted to. Even though I never won, my dad’s races communicated to me that it was still possible that I could be a winner in the future. When I didn’t win there were no tears or extreme emotion demonstrated by me. My dad told me I just needed to try to go faster next time if I wanted to win. And I said I would.
I don’t recall my dad ever letting me win at anything – racing, badminton, volleyball, Monopoly, Billionaire, Scrabble, or any other game or competition we were engaged in. I’m glad he didn’t let me win because I learned that I really had to work for the titles and rewards I desired. My dad helped me understand that competition was what would push me to achieve my goals.
Once I was in school, competition compelled me to prove that I was faster than everyone – even the boys. I received my first blue ribbon in first grade for being the fastest at the sack race on Field Day. I wondered what was wrong with everyone else since they weren’t motivated to move very fast in their gunny sacks. I loved field day. I loved gym class. I loved recess. I loved any opportunity where I could show that I was faster than the other kids. I treasured my Physical Fitness Presidential Award patches that I got from Jimmy Carter in fifth and sixth grade. At that time, I was one of only three students in our class of 90 kids that could do a kip-up. My dad taught me how to do it – which was the fastest way of getting to a standing position from being flat on my back. I also set my school’s record for sit-ups and the long jump.
Competition also caused me to work hard in school to prove that I was smarter and more creative than all of my classmates. I enjoyed winning science, art, and writing competitions as much as I enjoyed winning races. In high school, I became bored with some of my teachers who didn’t seem to appreciate my way of doing things. So instead of going through the twelfth grade I started working full-time on earning my BA in art and minor in business – and I became the first in my high school class to go to college and the first to graduate with a four-year degree.
In jobs after college I was given various awards and recognition designed to encourage employees to be the best. When I was a stay-at-home mom, my kids would sometimes hand me a “Best Mom” award. I realized that a lot of kids love their moms and freely hand out awards like that even to crappy moms. So I felt like I should strive to do whatever I could to actually earn those awards that my kids gave me.
Now, my kids are grown and I’m unemployed. Thanks to autoimmune disease I can’t run like I used to. I haven’t been given the title of best or fastest at anything in a long time. The only things I really have to compete with are the dust bunnies in my house. If this is where I’ve ended up, it probably appears to others that all of the racing I did through my life was for nothing.
When I found myself running beside Wayde van Niekerk inside of my head this week, I realized that I’m definitely not done racing yet. My dad taught me that there is always a competition to be won. And if I were the last person on earth, I should be competing with myself so that I can be even better.
I’m currently focused on being the best writer I can be. I feel that there are a lot of crappy writers out there who get a lot of recognition. I think I can do better than them. I would like to be awarded for my writing but I want to be deserving of it. I want to become a really good writer. I would like to be so good at writing that I would receive the Minnesota Book Award. Then I would like to be number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Then I would like to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Those things may sound out of reach, but racing with my dad taught me to always set goals that are way out there – even ones that are as far away as the ditch was from my childhood home.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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