I have vivid memories of competing in the school sports day when I was a young child, full of hopes and dreams (and a couple of handfuls of jelly cola bottles). I remember clattering into the bar during the high jump (the bar being barely waist high).
I remember nursing a bleeding elbow, sustained whilst crashing into the grit during the 100m race after tripping over my own feet. But, most of all, I remember HATING sports day.
Now, 20 years later, competitor has turned spectator, and I am watching my five-year-old son compete in his first sports day.
"Remember," I say, as we walk through the school gates, "it's not about the winning. It's the taking part that counts. It's all about having fun."
An hour later and he is at the start line, pulling quite the pose: standing side on, right hand up to his lips, knees slightly bent. I have no idea where he learned how to do that. To his left and right stand three fellow racers, striking similar poses (apart from the slightly chubby kid on the end who has already lost interest).
And they're off! The expression on some of the kids' faces is priceless. One child bears nothing short of a grimace, his face taut in concentration, his eyes wide. Another is - for some reason - crying, yet still running. It's a strangely tragic sight, like a cross between 'Chariots of Fire' and 'Titanic'.
Behind them comes Isaac, bringing up the rear, running his little heart out as I whoop and clap at the trackside. I'm not bothered in the slightest that he's coming last: pride in your child means you don't care less what others are doing. That's not to say I wasn't secretly pleased when the girl next to him lost her shoe and he overtook her in the last few metres, of course.
Sports days are great to watch. One of the races involves running whilst balancing a small plastic hoop on your head: a sneaky girl from the year above Isaac hooks the hoop over her bun and legs it to the finish line.
There's the 'ooohh' from the crowd when a child trips and faceplants into the moist grass, and the exuberant round of applause when they pick themselves up and limp over the line, knees muddied and eyes tearful.
The problem is, I got too involved. The 'winner' of one egg and spoon race crossed the line whilst holding the egg in a clammy hand, yet still got the gold sticker. "But...but...that's CHEATING!" I feel like yelling, momentarily forgetting that this is not the Olympics.
All in all, my first taste of sports day as a spectator was a good one: the children had a great time (mostly), and the parents were relieved to have a morning off work. And the look of pride on the parents' faces as they stood on the finish line and watched their children running towards them was priceless.
Maybe - just maybe - it is the taking part that counts.
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