Personal coaching opportunities have come up for me several times in my career. Back in my corporate days, I mentored plenty of eager, young up-and-comers who were bent on reaching the corner office. And nowadays, in my work with Adironnda & Company, I’m always happy to offer encouragement to individuals along their spiritual path.
Some of the biggest challenges—and biggest rewards—I’ve had with personal coaching, however, have come in my job as Mom. This is the story of just such a time.
My son, Austin, was in the sixth grade when he chose to run his first marathon. I had run many shorter races—5Ks and 10Ks—but a marathon? Nope. Hadn’t found that level of courage. But somehow, somewhere, Austin had.
So today was his big marathon day.
Earlier that morning, I had run the 5K that was staged as part of the same event. Next on the agenda was to meet up with my family to support Austin. The traffic was just the worst, making it next to impossible to get to the 18-mile marker, where we had promised Austin we’d watch for him.
Known as “the wall,” the 18-mile marker is a big deal. It’s the point in the race when most runners have depleted their nutrition and electrolytes, and their confidence begins to falter. Some runners quit at this point.
Finding no way to get close to the 18-mile mark, we settled in at the 24-mile mark instead. This would be great, we thought. With just 2.2 miles to the finish line, the 24-mile marker is a powerfully exhilarating place to greet your runner, and we had come prepared. With giant signs reading “GO AUSTIN!!!” and cow bells ready to clang with all our might at the first sight of him, we watched and waited.
As the day wore on, it got hotter and hotter, and even spectating from the curb was proving to be a marathon.
I continued to watch for Austin as the sea of runners surged past. Five hours into the race and no sign of Austin. Runners were walking now and beginning to show signs of exhaustion.
Five and a half hours into the race. No Austin. I knew that, at his typical pace, he should have been across the finish line by now. Something must have happened. We couldn’t have missed him?!? I was worried.
I started walking, then—jogging, actually—towards the runners, scanning every single body, looking for my little guy. About a half a mile later, I spotted him, walking, looking at the ground, slumped and dejected.
I was so relieved… I called out to him, “Austin!!!” and sprinted towards him.
He stopped, looked up at me, half smiled for a second, then looked back down at the ground and continued to walk.
“Austin, how are you? You okay, Sonshine?” The spelling is deliberate. It’s always been my special name for him.
“That’s a stupid question,” he muttered under his breath, loud enough for me to hear. He was right. Obviously, he was not okay—and not happy with me.
I walked beside him. I could see that he was on the verge of tears. I said, “Aus’ I’m so proud of—” He cut me off, “Where were you?” You weren’t at the 18-mile mark!” He was choking back tears.
“Oh, yeah… I’m sorry about that. We just couldn’t get there, and… “ I could see it was better if I just said nothing.
Runners continued passing us on both sides as we walked along, slowly, quietly…
Then, I remembered. During the 5K that morning, there had been a dad running the race, pushing his young son in a stroller. I had jogged alongside of them, just within earshot, as his son was saying, “How much further, Daddy?”
“Do you see that streetlight?” his father said. “Yeah,” the son answered. “We have only three more streetlights. Let’s count ‘em.” Then off they ran, counting streetlights.
I did a quick calculation: two miles left, four lights per mile… probably around eight or nine streetlights. Smiling, I looked over to my little guy and broke the silence between us.
“Hey Aus’, there are only eight streetlights till the end.”
“So…,” he said. We just happened to be crossing an intersection at that moment. He looked up, noticing the light.
“Let’s just jog to the next streetlight, okay?” I suggested. Without answering, we both began to jog. Slowly, we passed through another intersection. “Here we go,” I said, “streetlight number seven.” Did the same for number six, then five, then four, and now we were actually in a nice, rhythmic run.
“Hey, Mom!” Austin was grinning at me. “There are only three streetlights left!”
“That’s right!” I said, breathing heavily. At this point, I was working to keep up with him.
We turned the corner and there it was: the finish line. I was feeling an onslaught of emotion. “Here we go, Mom, streetlight number two!” As we reached the other side, he shouted, “Just one more!”
He was grinning from ear to ear.
As we approached the final streetlight, the announcer called “Austin Robey!” over the loudspeaker and congratulated him as one of the younger marathoners. Austin began to sprint, and I fell back. Not being a registered marathon participant, I knew I wasn’t entitled to cross the finish line.
My son, my Sonshine, shouted back at me, “C’mon, Mom!”
Just then, over the loudspeaker, the announcer shouted, “Look at this! We have a mother and son finishing together—go on Mom, catch him!”
Austin slowed a bit so I could catch up with him, my face all teary. Arriving at that all-important line with Austin just a half a stride ahead, we leaped across the finish together. No sooner had his timing chip chirped than he looked over his shoulder at me.
“Next year, Mom, we do this together.”
And we did! My son, 12 years old and worldly wise, inspired me to find the courage at last. One year later, at age 40, I ran the marathon—my first of many. Here we are, Austin and I…..
So… what was my big lesson? It was that we teach what we most want to learn, and – that it is our students who often teach us (the teacher – or coach) the most of all.
Have you ever experienced a similar lesson? Please share it with us in the comments below.
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