Friday, February 26, 2010

Agony of Defeat, Part 2: The Cut

I'm back with more heartbreak from the world of youth sports. I know, I keep harping on this. But it's still very much on my mind, especially in light of a recent update in our little corner of ski racing...one we saw coming, but still dug the tip of that competitive knife just a little deeper into Nate's psyche: he found out the other day that he did not make the elite team of 9-12-year-olds going to the end-of-season championships.

Instead, he's the second alternate.

He was prepared for this outcome. The handwriting was on the wall after his very first race ended in a spectacular crash back in January, and was only reaffirmed as he fell into a hard-earned 3rd several times in a row. I'd gently warned him of this announcement's immanent arrival. And yet...

And yet.

Somehow, over the course of the season, making this team had become a personal goal of his. A fierce, serious-as-a-ten-year-old can be goal. So it was hard to watch his face when I broke the news to him--over his morning oatmeal, lest he hear it from someone at school later in the day--even though he took it in stride. He nodded, and then he nodded again when I broke the double-news: his good friend and ski buddy did make it. They had been talking about qualifying for this race together for over a year now.

And now one has, and one hasn't.

And his buddy deserves it. He's rocked the ski slopes this season, and we're proud of him. Did Nate work every bit as hard? Did he listen to his coaches, ski in all weather, practice his technique, and show up for every race, just like his friend? Yes.

But it wasn't enough. Not quite. Not this year. And that's life. That's where talent and dedication have to collide at just the right angle. And they just didn't, not for Nate.

We're a family of athletes. We embrace competition. At the kinder-soccer game, we're the ones who know the score and our son is rarely the one picking dandelions. I'm not the type of mom you'll find whining to the coach that her kid doesn't get enough playing time. And when it comes to this ski team, I know this ain't no charity event. Sure, we poured money into this. We spent nights tuning skis. Nate worked hard, but where the rubber meets the road is, well, where the rubber meets the road. I've been there too: I've sacrificed my time, sweat, and social life just to park my behind on a bench. It's no fun. But it taught me strength of character. It taught me perseverance. But I was sixteen when I learned this lesson, not ten.

It's something to think about.

I was putting away Nate's laundry later that morning, and found myself staring at this:


One small part of his cork board filled with medals, ribbons, and the like. And I'm not bragging about my kid here, because this is the medal collection of a kid who did not measure up. Who I worry will finish his season feeling as though he's failed. And it makes me wonder: if this isn't enough, if this doesn't cut it, are we expecting too much?

I don't have an answer.

But this much I know: this morning, the morning after, he got up excited for his afternoon ski practice; for snow and friends and the camaraderie of mogul hopping and lift-riding and Cup-o-Noodles in the lodge, and that, after all, is why we're on this crazy ride in the first place.


(Posted at Finer Things Friday, because falling short and getting right back up is a Finer Thing!)
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