My competitive nature has always been my strongest driving force. It came natural to me to want to be the best in whatever I did. It made me seek challenges which ultimately led me to excel in school and running. I joined the indoor track team when I was 15. My competitive nature didn’t come out immediately because I was dealing with the initial soreness and aches runners experience when first starting out.
It was overwhelming learning how to balance school and my new found love for running. After indoor season ended I decided to take a break from the sport and it immediately felt like a mistake. I longed to race and continue running to keep improving. I would accompany my former team to their outdoor track meets and watch girls compete. But I wasn’t satisfied sitting on the bleachers and cheering when I knew I could be out there.
At the end of the school year there was an event for student athletes, Sports Awards. It was my first time attending and I didn’t expect any recognition. I knew I was one of the slower runners on the team. But, surprisingly, I was given an award for participation. Everyone on all the teams received one and those who had actual accomplishments during their seasons got additional awards. I would have rather been left empty handed than receive a participation award. It’s meaningless. Seeing the other more successful athletes, including the fast runners on my team, get awards with actual significance pushed me to become better.
I’m not a naturally talented runner and it hasn’t stopped me from wanting to work hard. During my first indoor season I ran the 3200 meter race, which is approximately two miles, in 19 minutes. That’s not a great time and I’m pretty sure I was the last girl on the track. Two years later in my senior year I ran the same race and had a personal best, 13 minutes.
The same situation happened in cross country where I began the season running 3.1 miles in 36 minutes and within a few months dropped my time to 28 minutes. Shedding those minutes was a great accomplishment for me. Seeing improving results made me want to run more and keep getting faster. The natural competition I had, especially with myself, is what pushed me to become better. I was completely dedicated to beating my own personal records and it translated well into races. I was able to tap into an aggressive mentality where I only saw the finish line ahead of me, while still being aware of my competitors surrounding me.
It was receiving that participation award that made me want to be the best. With that push I not only became faster and had the opportunity to go to summer running camp, but I also became a co-captain and, later, a captain of the team. At my last Sports Award there were no longer participation awards and I received Most Valuable Player for Outdoor Track. It was what I had set out to do and I had accomplished it.
Running has given me a lot. Through the concrete group runs, steep hills, stormy practices at Central Park, running bridges and dealing with several injuries, I found myself. At the end of the day I no longer needed awards or recognition. I could even go without being a leader because I was satisfied with my personal accomplishments.
Being a runner isn’t easy. It takes dedication, time, sweat, blood and tears. As cliché as that sounds, it’s completely true. Running is an individual sport. When I run it’s only me. I have full control over how fast I go, how much I push myself, how much pain I’m willing to handle and how much I will improve.
If an individual does want to be recognized, they have to do the work. It doesn’t happen overnight and it surely doesn’t happen if the work is half done. There are people who are satisfied with simply receiving a participation award but I’m not one of them. When everyone gets a participation award, it can be seen as a form of fairness. It puts everyone on the same level, but how is that fun? A little competition never hurt anyone.
When considering my hypothetical children, I wouldn’t want them to get one either because it creates a false illusion of skill. By continuing to give out participation awards, adults are doing a disservice to the younger generation. Similar to life, we don’t get awards for being born. We have to earn respect and recognition through our well thought out actions.