Michelle beat me to the finish line with her recent blog on running her first 5K. For a while now, I have been composing in my head a similar piece: a different “first,” but the same theme of appreciating the support I received. I shared a lot of nervous laughter with my sister when signing up together for what we coined the BSM (Big Stupid Marathon); I gratefully accepted the fresh water and snack my son delivered via bicycle at the 20-mile mark of a training run; I was buoyed by the excited words and encouraging posters that my family offered half way through the actual race.

Although I could continue to list more supporters, the number of people who knew about my plan to run a marathon was relatively few. I was tight-lipped about it out of potential embarrassment should I not follow through with my intentions. On occasion, it crossed my mind that it would be easy to throw in the towel. But, more often, my thoughts during the hours and hours and miles and miles of running gravitated to how support – no matter how small or grandiose – really can make all the difference between giving up and persevering.

While important to me personally, the goal I set forth was basically a lark. My life circumstances allow me the time and energy to pursue activity beyond securing the basic necessities. Aside from a bruised ego, there were no repercussions if I failed to achieve the goal. My friends and family would understand that it was t
oo much and continue to love me. My world would still revolve.

This is not so true when the stakes are set higher, when the situation is more dire. As I was casting about for something to distract me from whether I could get to the next utility pole or not on one long run, I randomly thought of a teenager in our community who had run into some trouble with the law. He had defaced public buildings with hate-crime graffiti – a crime not particularly serious in any urban area, but to our Mayberry-esque town, it was a shock.

The boy moved out of his parents’ home and stopped attending school. Classmates, friends, and even adults stopped speaking to the perpetrator, avoided eye contact with him. My pre-adolescent daughter was horrified when my husband, who knew the young man from several years of Boy Scouts, greeted him at a basketball game. My husband explained to my daughter, “He’s not a monster; he just made a mistake.” Such a small gesture of support, but from the look of gratitude on the teen’s face, a much-needed affirmation that not everyone had given up on him.

In the coincidental way that life has of unfolding, a few weeks later I was flipping through an issue of Runner’s World that my sister passed on to me. I seldom read every article in the magazine because it can feel too hard core, but one article attracted my attention because of my work at PRA. The article described a running club at Reflections Central, a San Diego high school for juvenile offenders.

Members of this club set running goals amidst lives of “neglectful parents, violent neighborhoods, drug addictions, and gangs.”  Kids at this school who fail suffer more than bruised egos. The club organizers – a probation officer and a teacher – provide support to youth who run to not only prepare for races, but in many cases, to save their lives.

In an echo of Michelle’s message about her first 5K, giving up is not an option for either club organizer or club member. Everyone, including youth who have made mistakes, deserves the support it requires to persevere.