The Last Champion

A couple of his classmates snickered when they heard Kyle say, “I’ll join.”

Then one of the girls said, “Coach couldn’t even get you to run a hundred steps last year during P.E.”

Kyle ignored the remark and the chuckling and kept his hand raised to make certain that the new Cross Country coach had seen him. The young man didn’t know it but he would be one of only four boys from his entire school to sign up for the sport.

The following day, the four boys walked across the street from their school to the park for the first day of practice. They were met there by the coach.

“I’m going to make things simple,” he said. “I expect you give one-hundred percent everyday at practice and I expect you to do your best at every meet.”

The coach paused, his hands firmly placed on his hips as he looked at each boy, then he added, “Any questions?”

After a few seconds he said, “Good! Now I need five laps as soon as we get warmed up.”

By the end of his second lap, the coach could tell that Kyle would require more time and effort to complete the assigned run. He could see that the young man was overweight and not used to the level of exercise required to run a three and a half mile race.

Still he had to admire the fact that the kid wasn’t complaining or giving up. It took him twice as long to finish the five miles as it did his other three team mates.

“I’m not very good at this,” he complained to the coach after he caught his breath. Then he added, “Maybe I should quit before I embarrass you or the other guys.”

The coach stepped up and looked the 15-year old in the face and asked, “Did you give it your all today?”

The teen sheepishly answered, “Yes.”

“Good! Then I’ll hear no more talk about quitting!” the coach barked at the startled runner.

The team worked out with one another for the next two-weeks. They ran not only in the park across from the school, but they also ran in the hills surrounding town, using old cattle trails for their workout paths.

At the first race, the competition was steep. Nearly 200 runners had arrived to run through the mountains over looking North Lake High School. The best place anyone from the team was 55th.

It was Kyle who did the worst though. He placed last in his division, even being out paced by the girls as they started half an hour after the boys took off in their race. I took the young man more than twice the time it took others in the race to complete the course.

The coach felt a knot in his stomach as he stood waiting for the last member of his team to cross the finish line. He also felt bad for the young man as he came around the corner and through the gate onto the football field all the while being passed by girls his own age.

Kyle refused to give up.

The next week the same thing happened, followed by the same occurrence the following week. Kyle refused to give up and by this time he had gained a small fan based, made up of runners from other area teams, who willingly cheered him on as he ran towards the finish line.

By the seventh and final week of the regular season, coaches were standing along the sidelines cheering Kyle as he dashed towards the finish line. Some had even started chanting his name, “Kyle, Kyle, Kyle…” until he finished.

One coach even went as far as to nickname him “Last Place Lane.” At first Kyles’s coach was angry at the idea of such a rotten thing to call a child, but Kyle smiled and said that he like being called that.

“Why?” the coach asked.

Kyle smiled and then explained, “It makes me feel like a champion simply for finishing, Dad.” Then the young man added, “Besides last place is a place. There are a couple of guys who dropped out in the middle of the race.”

I nodded my head in agreement with my son’s statement.

That’s when it occurred to me that Kyle had the right attitude about sports and sportsmanship. I also realized that while Kyle may have been the team’s worst runner, he was also the last champion.

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