(from the producer of Envying Job)
It’s a brisk Friday night, and my eight-year old daughter Brooke is ready. This is her first season of basketball and only her second basketball game ever. Maybe last week’s eight-point contribution to her team’s 32-4 victory was a fluke. Maybe not. She runs all over the court, defending, rebounding, stealing…I tell the team that stealing is wrong, unless you are playing basketball, in which case it is not only okay but is enthusiastically encouraged. Brooke has also mastered the hoop – she has 10 points when the game is over, her Lady Tigers have 22, the other guys 8. Apparently no fluke here.
And now for something completely different from the fickle face of competition. My older daughter Bree’s team plays the next morning. I’m assistant-coaching the team, yelling, cajoling, and pleading for them to find a spark, anything to come back from last week’s 20-4 pounding. They have played that team before, last year, and we knew what they were capable of doing. But we never saw this train coming. Nine girls – already unified by playing on a soccer team together – and all one grade older (and taller). Not to mention without a weak player on the roster. Five play while four rest, ready to come in at the buzzer to continue the punishment their buddies have inflicted. When the long buzzer sounds at the end the final is 31-0, and we couldn’t find it in us to make one shot. Not a pretty sight. Since I’m the assistant coach, I berate myself more than the team. My softball team wins constantly. Maybe I’m just not a good loser. Maybe losing is okay, just not getting creamed. Maybe I should give this up. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
Getting up at 3:30 on Sunday morning is just wrong. But since tomorrow is a holiday and I can sleep in, I will handle this. And at least I don’t have to actually RUN in the Chevron Houston Marathon starting at 7:00, like my wife Becah does. She will be competing, both with others and, in response to her own demands, with herself, to complete the half-marathon and survive to tell about it. We arrive at the private bus shortly before five, and we are soon off in the darkness, heading for Minute Maid Park. A few of us spouses were along for support, as well as a personal trainer to handle the post-run bending and massaging. Sean, the fitness club owner and half-marathon runner also, is fending off teases about his ability to endure this run (as he is a self-proclaimed strength trainer and is probably making this run more as a response to a dare than anything). Sean is smiling, a youthful-looking, buffed fellow who looks like Hans and Franz have been pumping him up (but without Aaron Rodgers’ soft spots). Someone suggests he wear an outfit like a superhero, complete with cape. Sean fears that the media could catch him lying face down on the street - with his Fitness 101 insignia on his cape and footprints across his back – should he give out before hitting the finish line. Not a good advertising campaign.
The runners leave the bus before seven, obsessing over how many clothes they should layer on since the brisk morning (in the forties) is predicted to warm to sixties as the day unfolds. It’s still windy and very chilly, though, and one wonders how the guys jogging toward the starting corrals shirtless and in their shorts are fairing right at this moment. In a surprisingly short time, we spectators find ourselves standing in front of Capitol Street listening to the DJ and the pulsing music as he cheers on the Ethiopian frontrunner lady who has won the full marathon for the second year straight. I see “Batman” chugging along in the crowd of other finishers to follow. Becah passes in front of us, still moving after 2 hrs. 10 min. of endurance, crossing the line, all while probably planning how she will sign up next year for more. Everyone is waiting for Sean, wondering if he chucked it all and went for pizza, but he arrives, grinning, with no footprints on his back. In the reception hall, a group of people dressed in pink shirts let out a cry and hug a lady who has just entered the room, walking over with one leg artificial. She has seen the half-marathon through to its finish. Leaving the building Becah and I see her just ahead of us, wearing a t-shirt with the word “Achilles” on the back.
The bus ride back is full of congratulations and a few aches and pains (as well as some “never again” remarks). Cold Dos Equis are being popped – so much for healthiness – in celebration that, successful or not, ready for another or not, it is all over.
Continuing the competition on Sunday are the NFL conference championship games. Green Bay is amazingly cakewalking all over Seattle, quieting their usually-deafening throng. It is soon 19-0. Russell Wilson at one point in the game is 2 of 9 in completed passes, for 20 yards. By the end of the game he will throw four interceptions. I’m convinced this must be an imposter, or an alien in disguise. Then Seattle gets a touchdown. Then faster than I can blink Wilson takes one in himself for a TD and it is 19 to 14. Soon after Marshawn Lynch is actually walking into the end zone for a 20-19 Seattle lead. Wilson runs back and, off-balance, heaves one across opposite field for a two-point finale. Even though Green Bay is able to tie the game with a long field goal, I know it is over. The real Russell Wilson returns again to polish off the game by hurling the ball skyward, and it falls in the end zone right in the arms of his receiver even as a defender is hanging all over him. 28-22, Seattle. The clamor in the stadium erupts back to its usual level. Russell is weeping tears of joy and appreciation, revealing his bravest side yet.
The next game should be equally exciting. Indianapolis had edged out New England 38-34 in a past
championship game. But Andrew is out of Luck and Tom Brady and crew run all over the Colts 45 to 7. If it were a boxing match it would have been called.
Competition. It wrapped its arms around our whole weekend. I know there’s more to our lives, but here I am, embracing it right back, putting it down in writing, come what may.