Friday, May 17, 2013

Push it.

"Because it's hard. And 'cause right now I can't."

~ Zachary "Zack" Manning

"Mom? I think when I get a little bit older, like when I'm maybe eight or seven-and-a-half, I want to run the 800. And then, when I get like ten or eleven, I'm want to run the 1500, too."

This was Zachary's declaration that he shared so matter-of-factly from the back seat on our way home from track practice the other day. The same kid whose coach has referred to him as "a natural" when it comes to sprinting and also one who was "made for the 100 and 200 meter races." Yep. The same kid.

"Really, son?" I replied. "That's interesting considering how fast you sprint and how much you like the shorter distances."

"I'm still gonna do the 100 and the 200. And the 400 sometimes or like on a relay," he responded. "The 100 and the 200 are my favorite ones, mama."

I glanced into the rear-view mirror and smiled as I noticed his post-track ritual of pulling his shoes off one at a time. "Are you having fun, Zachary? I mean, with track are you?"

"Yes, mama." He made sure to look directly into the mirror when he said that so I'd know he meant it.

"Good."  I was really happy to hear that because that particular day seemed to be an unusually tough practice. The team was running drills and pushing themselves in ways that I don't ever remember being pushed as a kid. And as I sat on the bleachers with the other parents, I was careful to keep my eye on my own little prize out there. Making certain to keep an inventory of his face and body language to make sure it wasn't too much.

But Zachary--or rather "Zack?"  He was in his element. 100%.

I kept watching him and began to marvel at how intensely disciplined he is with sports. It's almost like he has a tiny little "Mick" in his ear--like Rocky Balboa had in his face--urging him to keep going and to not quit. His little face gets so determined and focused and, when speaking to his coaches, he is careful and deferential.

We'd gotten a late start that evening so practice was running a little later than usual. The kids, ranging from kindergartners up to middle schoolers, were starting to get cranky. A few of the smaller ones had already melted down and were whining in ways that were completely age-appropriate. Finally, the coach dismissed the little ones and instructed the seventh and eight graders to do one more 400 around the track before leaving. "And push it!" he added as they took off.

A few moments later, from the corner of my eyes I saw Zack and another little girl on his team talking to each other while finishing the last chug-o-lugs from their water bottles. The other little kids were already over to the bleachers with their parents and preparing to leave. I started gathering my things--an iPad, a medical journal, and People magazine--and getting ready to take off, too. I bent down to tie my own shoe and then slung Zachary's backpack over my shoulder. With a yawn, I squinted my eyes to make out what was taking my child so long to join his departing peers.

And then, this.

Those able-bodied seventh and eight graders had made that final curve and were flying down the track on the last 100 meters of that last lap. It was a beautiful sight . . . really. The work they'd been putting in was underscored in their both their envious muscle tone and the way they floated across that track like gazelles.

"Bring that chin down!"

"Use your arms!"

"Stretch it out!"

"Push it to the end!"

Those were the things that the coaches were calling out to them and you could see those lithe bodies chastening in response. As each crossed the line, they quickly decelerated and leaned over onto their knees in tripod positions to grab as much oxygen as they could.

"You can't tell those two anything, can you?"

At first, I didn't know what this other mother meant by that. But seconds later, I did.

Two little bodies came bounding around the last stretch of the track, faces forward and arms pumping like tiny pistons. One with three pony tails whipping behind her like kite ribbons and the other? Zachary.

The coaches and all of the older kids started laughing and clapping.

"Bring that chin down, Zack!"

"Use your arms, little mama!"

"Stretch it out, y'all!"

"Push it in, y'all!"

And they did. Those two little ones had made the executive decision to do that last 400 meter run, too.

Their faces were beaming when they finished. The coaches and all of the other kids remaining offered them high fives and slaps on the back. And all of it was really endearing. It was.

So on the way home, like always, Zachary (a.k.a. Zack), chattered about the highs and lows of practice. What's funny is, though this was probably the most demanding of the practices I've taken him to, he seemed to be in higher spirits than ever. Almost euphoric.

"So yeah, mama. I'm gonna run the 800 next year. That's two times around the track, you know. And you can't run as fast as you can at the beginning or you'll get tired. Coach said you have to save it up and then push it at the end."

"I see."

"If you run, like super-duper fast at the beginning, you get too tired then you go slow at the end."

"Makes sense."

"And you really have to save it up if you run the 1500, mama. Like really, really, really save it up!"


I drove in silence for a few moments and thought about Zachary and this newfound sport. I wondered the things that parents wonder. .  . . like. . .is this too much? Is it fun for him? Am I robbing him of something? Is this worth the time commitment even? I glanced up into the mirror again where I caught Zachary drinking a mini-Gatorade and staring out of the window. His face was content and he looked happy.

Track was something we found because he wanted to do it. "I want to get my wind up for football and basketball," he said to us. That made us laugh, but when he looked hurt by our response, we knew he was serious. This was a calculated plan for him. A part of this innate discipline he seems to possess when it comes to conditioning his body as an athlete.

Even at six years old.

I bit the inside of my cheek and let that marinate for a few seconds. This? The "go hard or go home" mentality? That's something he got more from his father than from his mother. And I smiled at that thought because it's something I've gotten a lot of from him, too.

"Hey Z?"

"Yes, mama?"

"Why do you want to run the 800 or the 1500? You always say that you don't like the longer distances because you like to sprint. Mom is just wondering what made you change your mind and want to run those races, too? The 800 and the 1500?"

"Because it's hard. And 'cause right now I can't."

He took one more swig of the Gatorade, flashed me a big red mustache grin, and went back to looking out of the window.

"Because it's hard. And 'cause right now I can't."


Happy Friday.

Thoughts to chew on: What limits are you pushing? What are you aspiring to do that's hard and that, right now, you can't? Personally? Professionally? Physically? Period? 

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . as a reminder to push it!

P.S. Zachary told me that it's Zack with a 'k' because that's how you spell "track." Ummm, yeah.


  1. Well. As the mother of a track and field athlete myself, you know how this post resonates. I am so proud of your boy, and know that the way he approaches track will stand him in good stead in everything. My own son, who is at NCAA regionals this very weekend, measures himself not so much against his fellow runners, but against his own record. His goal is always to improve on his previous record, he's running always to set a personal best. It makes him very conscientious in other areas of his life, too. I will share this quote with you that is still pasted to my son's bedroom door, one that he taped there when he was in middle school. Zack (!) might like it now or someday.

    "People can't understand why a man 
runs. They don't see any sport in it. Argue it lacks the sight and thrill of body contact. Yet, the conflict is there, more raw and challenging than any man
 versus man competition. For in running it is man against himself, the cruelest of opponents. The other runners are not the real enemies. His adversary lies within him, in his ability, with brain and heart to master himself and his emotions."—U.S. Olympian Glenn Cunningham

    You have a lot of meets ahead of you with your natural born runner. Ii can tell! They will be thrilling.

    1. I am so excited to see how it all plays out. Of course you know I thought about your boy in all of this. :)

  2. Nothing like real talk from a child. I'm trying to motivate myself to do my research, whining to myself about how hard it is and how much better I am at things that involve, you know, contact with people. Then...BOOM! Real talk from Zack-spelled-like-track. Here I go, back to work. Chin down, pushing through.

  3. Are you kidding me? Even you kid's words tear me up. Because it's hard.... Oh, Dr. Kim, I would give an eye tooth to sit with you over a glass or two of wine and talk parenting and sports and what our babies push themselves to do and love doing, and how it shapes them and how I worry about the physical toll, the social toll... but my daughter told me this year if she didn't have volleyball she didn't know what she would do, and she meant in life, at all, ever. She has found what she's good at and what she loves.

    I think the exercise, the endorphins, the victories and the losses and the camaraderie and most of the coaches have been great for her. But when they push themselves so hard, practice longer than anyone else, and get maybe a day a week off, and come home exhausted and studies are hard to juggle, sometimes I worry. Varsity sports and travel sports can almost own your child.

    Ours will be fine, yours are on their way to amazing things, and they come from good stock. Enjoy every minute of it - watching our kids play sports has been the highlight for this family, the absolute best.

    1. I'd love to sit and pick your brain, too. And it encourages me to hear about your daughter and her feelings about volleyball. Thanks for these words of wisdom.

  4. what a wise child. My daughter loved to dance but had a hard time with tap dancing. She loved it though. I asked why and at 6 yrs old, told me it was because it was hard and she really had to practice. She didn't get that from me, but I was proud of her nonetheless. She danced al the way through college and was in the Black Dance Movements group at Georgetown. Yes, she was the only woman, NOT of color in the group, but she loved it. Her professor, a beautiful black woman like yourself, told her to realize she was, "Lifted and Gifted." Wise words.

    1. Sigh. Oh Mary Alice. Your words are always so beautiful to me.

  5. Shout out the the runners of the 800 (like me, back in the day)! Ere'body ain't able, LOL!!!

  6. Go Zack with a ck!!! I know you are a proud mama!!

    1. Rhymes with track, dawg. Rhymes with track. LOL.

      Seriously? Seriously.

  7. That "Zack" is an old soul. He is so wise to know that we rarely have long lasting memories of our easy successes, but our victory over challenges stay with us for a very long time.

    1. That kid is a beast. It's the funniest thing to watch.

  8. "Because it's hard. And 'cause right now I can't."
    That is just superb! Your little kid inspires old, old me!

    1. That's real talk, right? I need some of his fire in me, too!

  9. Sounds like a marathoner in the making :)


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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