(Photo: Vic Lennard)
This blog is dedicated to everyone who has ever tried and failed but never given up...
Back in the 1960s, an annual sports day was held for the various synagogue Hebrew classes. My parents didn't have a car so the coach trip from Redbridge to Clapham Common was quite an adventure. There were all the typical races of the day including the sack race, the three-legged race, the 50-yard dash and my favourite, the egg-&-spoon race. I was never the most sporting of kids but I was happy to participate and it was a great day out.
I must have been about six years old when I took part in the egg-&-spoon race and came third. Third! For me that was an incredible achievement - until I realised that only the top two received a prize. But third - wow! About 10 minutes later I saw the boy who had come fourth walking around with his prize, a ball. Why did he have a prize for fourth when I didn't get one for coming third?
I asked my dad why this was so. His reply? "He didn't win the ball. His father bought it for him." I have never forgotten those words or how it felt to believe that another boy's father loved him enough to buy him a ball but mine didn't.
Over the years I've tried, and failed, to win a sporting award. Swimming, putting, pool, darts, snooker... always the bridesmaid, never the bride!
Fast forward 55 years. Having had to stop running for almost 20 years with a serious lower back problem, I started jogging about two years ago and found little reaction from my back. Apparently the stiffening of ligaments due to age has stabilised my lower spine and allows me to run again. Since October 2015 I have completed two London Marathons and dozens of 5k, 10k and half-marathons including regular Saturday morning 5k parkruns.
On Saturday 9th September 2017, I was in America visiting my son and his wife. Being the 9/11 weekend, there were numerous commemorative 5k and 10k events including one in Bridgewater, New Jersey, the 9/11 Heroes Run for the Travis Manion Foundation. As this was only 20 miles from where I was staying I thought, "why not?"
America is never short of patriotism and the speeches before the 5k run inspired everyone. I was amazed at the number of first responders running who were dressed in full uniform including fire-fighters replete with oxygen tanks! I ran around 27 mins 30 secs, which was OK given the hills and heat, and placed 57th of the 200+ runners. I picked up a drink and a banana and drove home.
Next day I saw some photos of runners with a medal round their neck. I should know better - there's always a finishers' medal in UK events and I'd missed picking this one up. I emailed the organiser only to be told that medals were reserved for the top three in each age range. On checking the results, I was amazed to find that of the 13 people aged 60 and over, I'd come third...
At that moment, the memories came flooding back. I was a six-year-old again completing that egg-&-spoon race only this time I didn't need my father to buy me a prize - I'd actually won one by right.
The organisers mailed the medal to my son. He must have thought I was mad when I asked him to post it rather than wait a few months until he came to London. I even insisted on him using a tracked delivery method!
Had my father bought me that ball all those years ago, I wouldn't feel this sense of achievement. I realise now that it wasn't because he didn't love me. It was his way of preparing me for life's disappointments and instilling in me the ethic that winning something has to be a worthwhile experience. Prizes have to be deserved. He was right.