I ran track throughout high school, earning four varsity letters in the sport. I relished the comradery and loved the competition. We won many more meets than we lost, which was a great bonus. As a sophomore, I ranked number five in points on my varsity team. My future as a track standout looked bright.
However, injury produced a different outcome. Though in great pain, I persisted in competing my senior year. However, with each step causing me agony, I did the minimal requirement for practice. When it came time to compete, I struggled.
Knowing my on field contribution would be minimal, I decided to support my team in other ways. I became an encourager to my teammates: pumping them up when they were down, celebrating races won, and commiserating over disappointing finishes.
Lessons learned in treating my own injuries became skills I could share with others. Soon teammates were bypassing the coach and coming to me to tape their legs, apply ointments, and seek advice.
I organized the sprinters to ring the track during long distance events to cheer on our runners as they clicked off lap after lap. When something needed to be carried, I carried it. When a teammate required help, I helped. When the coach asked for volunteers, I stepped forward. I did whatever I could.
My example must have rubbed off on others. Once, an opponent fell in agony during a race. It was our team, and not his teammates, who carried him off the track and made sure he would be okay. Though we came in third that competition, we walked off with the sportsmanship trophy.
I barely won enough events my senior year to earn a letter, an outcome that remained in doubt until the next to the last meet of the season. My team did well that year, and though I produced little on the track, I did what I could to help.
At our concluding sports banquet, the coach handed out honors. Before he announced the sportsmanship award, he showered glowing accolades on the recipient. I assumed he was talking about someone else and was shocked when – based on the vote of my teammates – he presented the trophy to me. I gladly received it as their way of saying “thanks.” Though the season didn’t turn out as anticipated, it was my best year of all.
In retrospect, injury should have sidelined me. I could have given up or quit the team. I might have become bitter or even worked to sabotage their efforts. Thankfully God directed me to a different course, to be a positive influence to my teammates and serve them as best I could.
God, I dedicate this award to you.
[This is from the February 2015 issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter. Sign up to receive the complete newsletter each month via email.]