Posted on March 9, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , |

I’ve been asked to speak to an elementary school next month about perseverance.  This school works hard to develop character in their students.  Each month is dedicated to a different character trait; the school holds an assembly to award those students who have demonstrated the characteristic, and then someone gives a short talk.

April is perseverance month.  Running, the thinking goes, takes perseverance.

For months I’ve been wondering what to say to a group of K through 8th graders about the relationship between running and perseverance.  Do most of them even like to run?  What is running, really, for kids?  From what I have observed, most kids do the sprint-walk.  That is, they run all out as far as they can until they virtually collapse, and then they stagger into a walk, sucking in air like a turbojet.

Many of the adults I’ve seen who’ve tried to run with these kids have a hard time keeping up.  Maybe they should get an award for perseverance.

I thought about talking to the kids about Wilma Rudolph, a remarkable woman who overcame tremendous hardship to run.  Not only did she excel at running, but her efforts broke down some racial barriers in the segregated south.  A true role model, in my opinion, not only as a runner but as a human being.  Rudolph inspires me, but would she hold the kids’ interest?

What do kids know about perseverance anyway?  To persevere is to not give up.  To keep going in the face of all adversity, even when you feel like quitting. It means that obstacles cannot be obstacles; they can be hurdles or hills.  Maybe even mountains.  But you know that if you keep going you will find a way over.  So you keep going.

How do you relate that to a kid’s world?  What is it that Sponge Bob perseveres at, or Puss in Boots?  I have known kids who have demonstrated perseverance without necessarily knowing it.  Some have fought hard to stay in school when their parents have wanted to pull them out to work or help with childcare.  Others have lived through debilitating illnesses or undergone painful surgeries, only to smile and encourage their caregivers through the whole ordeal.

And I have known kids with incredible dreams who have had no support from the adults in their world.  They have been scoffed at and belittled, chastised to the point where many adults would fold and say enough, I give.  But not them.  They become artists and doctors, entrepreneurs and writers.

Some become runners.

To persevere implies that a goal has been set, that there is some end a person is working toward.  Goal setting may be the starting point of perseverance.  Maybe getting kids to run, to set goals—even small ones of just a few more yards or, maybe, eventually, a 5K—is the starting point to develop perseverance.

I don’t know if perseverance is learned or innate.  Maybe it is a bit of both.  Those of us who run know how good it feels to reach the goal we’ve set for ourselves. It makes us want to work even harder, to extend ourselves beyond what we believe to be our capabilities.

When we fail to reach our goal, that too can make us work harder yet.  We run through rain and sleet and snow.  Bitter cold and blistering heat.  Up hills that seem more like cliffs.  Through physical pain, illness, family issues.  We persevere.   Do we get scoffed at?  Maybe.  But in the end, who cares?

I suppose that this is what to tell the kids.  It doesn’t matter what other people think.  It doesn’t even matter so much what they do or say.  Figure out what you love to do, and then set a goal to do it.  Work hard to get there, because if you love it, work won’t feel like work.  And falling down won’t hurt as much as staying down.  In fact, you may come to feel like a Weeble.

If you haven’t yet figured out what you love to do, take up running.  Somewhere in the midst of the sprint-walk you might just hear that still, small voice that speaks to most runners.  It will set you straight.  And it may keep you running.

What would the rest of you runners say to kids about perseverance?



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