Respect the Cycle of Life
I stood on the podium next to the other former athletes. The sun was out, but the wind was brisk. It’s a beautiful fall morning. The announcer’s voice crackles over the loud speaker. “Let’s take a moment and look back at our past.”
It was twenty-five years ago that I stood on this podium to accept my award for finishing third in the Indiana State High School Association boys varsity cross-country state meet. It was a highlight of my running career, back in 1990. I was struggling my senior season and almost didn’t qualify for the state meet. I wasn’t expected to crack the top ten, let alone the top three. God had other plans for me that day. I ran my best race of the season and finished my high school cross-country career in spectacular fashion.
On this day, twenty-five years later, I reunite with the other competitors that finished in the top seven. “Erick Rheam, from Anderson.” The announcer’s voice breaks into my thoughts. I wave my hand to the small crowd, mostly family members, gathered to watch the presentation and to take a few pictures. I see my former high school coach, Garry Courter. He made the trip to be with me and to celebrate the occasion. I spot my parents smiling and taking pictures, their faces reveal their pride. My two sons are close by and staring up at me with fascination.
I marvel at how fast twenty-five years passed and how different my life is now. It’s hard to believe that I once stood on this podium as a young man with the world at my feet and my entire future in front of me. Now I stand here, a little older, a little heavier, much slower, but very satisfied at how my life has turned out so far.
I return to my family, after the ceremony, “I’m proud of you, Erick, thanks for including us.” Mom hugs me. “That was cool, Dad.” My son Adrian, chimes in.
I break away from my family and the other former athletes to take the long walk past the starting line and into the athlete staging area. There are several team camps neatly situated with brightly colored tents erected and arranged in tight rows filling the area. There is a buzz of excitement as all the best runners in the state prepare to run their hearts out for a chance to make the podium as I did over two decades ago.
It’s satisfying for me to be here, not because I was recognized for my accomplishment, but because I have two runners that I once trained in the race today. I had the honor to coach them their freshmen and sophomore years. Cole and Hope, my former #1 boy and girl runners prepare themselves to race and compete with the best today and I step into the staging area to encourage them.
Two nights earlier, I met up with both of them for dinner and helped them prepare mentally for the race today. I get the chance to meet up with Hope in her tent. I hug her and wish her luck. I find Cole near the starting line and I hug him and pray over him. My heart fills with pride and joy for both of them as I know how hard they worked to get here and compete.
I walk away from the staging area and find a spot on the course so I can cheer them on as they race. I stand on the course and watch the spectators scramble to various parts of the terrain as the gun goes off and the race begins. It occurs to me the power and the beauty of the cycle of life. I once had my shot to make my mark on this race. That time passed and now Cole and Hope are racing and making their marks. I look over at my son, Ryan, who will someday soon be here at the state meet himself and competing against the best.
The cycle of life is as inevitable as gravity. Life comes and life goes, but the cycle never ends. We are a part of that cycle, but it’s up to us whether or not it’s a positive or negative experience. It also occurs to me that today could have been very different if I made different choices. I believe I made the right ones, because I had mentors, like Coach Courter and my parents to guide me. Cole almost didn’t become a high school cross-country runner, but he made the right choice because he had mentors and coaches to guide him along the way.
The state meet concludes and the runners compete hard and honor themselves and their families in the process. I look over my shoulder as I stroll back towards the car and notice my old coach walking with my son, Ryan, and talking with him about running and the important principles of competing. Ryan listens intently and soaks it all in as they walk slowly behind me. “The cycle of life” I whisper to myself with a smile.