Everyone had given up and nothing much was being said. The shouts had faded into sighs and whispers. One lad grunted, another stomped his boot, and all heads were hanging like thirsty flowers from tender stems. It was as if all the hope that had been there at the start had floated up towards the heavens and onto a different field.
My son Henry’s soccer team was going to lose this match. It was near the end and they were losing by a lot. The opposition continued to score goal after goal. I stood on the side line and my mind raced, my eyes darted around looking at the other spectators. We were all quiet.
Then, as if someone whacked me on the back and my mouth was simultaneously pried open with a pair of invisible hands, I yelped out a cheer. I shouted another and another. Little eyeballs, released from their magnetic connection to the ground, were once again taking in the game. The boys were back in the match. The lads needed their fans to cheer them on and to remind them that it was worthwhile to keep trying.
In the end, they lost the match but they got over it. I didn’t get over it though. I couldn’t stop thinking about how defeated the players looked as the other team scored goal after goal. I couldn’t stop thinking about how wrong that silence felt. I couldn’t stop thinking that it is our job as adults to teach children to persevere through adversity. I couldn’t stop thinking that we need to teach ourselves that too. I couldn’t stop thinking that we need to ditch hopelessness, worry, anxiety, and low expectations and persist until our course of action is complete.
The Irish Mountain Running Association’s Maurice Mullins Ultra, a trail race I’ve been preparing for since January, is next week. It’s the first ultra that I’m going to race. I’m freaking out; I’m excited; I’m heading for the unknown. No one is going to be on the side of the trails cheering me on. It will be quiet except for the cheering I do for myself in my mind. I’m going to be that relentless fan on the side lines that just will not shut up. I’m going to fuel her with Gummy Bears and Snickers and have faith that she keeps cheering until we hit the finish line.
The boys on that soccer team will eventually learn that we must always be our own loudest and proudest cheerleaders. There is just no way that anyone wants us to succeed more than we want ourselves to succeed. We must persevere and aim to run the legs off that damn adversity.
The person who stands strong until the end, knowing that they aren’t going to win, is the winner. When there are 20 minutes left in a match that we probably won’t win, 20 miles left in a race that we may not place in, 20 seconds left in a job interview that we might not get, 20 days left of medical treatment that might not save our lives, we must continue to cheer ourselves on.
That day on the soccer pitch those little players were learning about perseverance. I’m still learning and we’re all still learning. All the moments that we cheer ourselves on when failure is chasing us down, that we convince ourselves to have hope, those are the moments when we’re truly living. We must chase after those moments because the alternative is just too damn depressing.