Monday, 14 February 2011

Chicks with sticks and lads with lances.

One of the responsibilities of being a parent who encourages one's children to engage in healthy, sport-filled activities is that, occasionally, the parent must volunteer for events for that child's sporty activities.
This past weekend, the parents of several children found themselves volunteering for 9 hours at a track and field meet.

Now I use the term "volunteering" somewhat loosely. Showing up and helping is mandatory for all parents. Oh, and I use the term "helping" somewhat loosely too, because what is involved is usualy more akin to hard labour than answering telethon telephones.

At previous track meets, I have found myself holding a gun, pointing it at the roof and threatening to use it if someone crosses the very real line in the sand too early. The labour part of that otherwise glamorous, wildwest-style sojourn involved picking up, moving and setting up hurdles. Then taking them all away. I'm not quite sure why they don't just schedule the hurdles at the end of the day, but I'm more the type to shoot first and ask questions later.

On another occasion, I was given a clipboard and asked to herd small children who are encouraged to jump into a sand pit. I had to sequence their jumping by age, last name and past performance. Oh, and then I had to rake the sand, just for good measure - or perhaps better measure.

Then there was the time I was given a pylon and told to place it in front of the bar after every unsuccessful high jump. Easy eh? Try doing it 675 times.

Thankfully, with indoor track and field meets, I have yet had the pleasure of encountering javelin catching or discus retrieving, but I'm sure that too will come. No, this weekend I had the rare pleasure of volunteering - and becoming a Level 1 official, I'm told, of a sport whose nascence must have involved using long, straight branches to leap over obstacles in the jungle. Either that or some hardcore X-treme high jumpers bet each other over who can jump highest with an old javelin. Sort of like three dudes in Hawaii betting each other who's sport was more extreme.

So for nine hours, I had the rare plyometric pleasure of stepping on and off and on and off of the pole vault mats and hoisting the cross bar up with the aid of a specially jerry-rigged, worn out, duct-taped pole.

What was especially challenging was that my "station" was strategically positioned between the mat (and flying, plummeting and otherwise airborne poles and jumpers and the track. The track, as previously described had, not only runners, but people with guns and others who were  moving hurdles and waving flags and just generally being annoyingly efficient and active.

While doing my time, however, I did have the pleasure of seeing (and facilitating) a group of very healthy young men and women who hoisted poles 4, 5 and 6 feet longer than their bodies above their heads and then running with them faster than I can run at full tilt with the finish line in sight.

These chicks with sticks and lads with lances then would find a little space to plant their pole and, suddenly, they would be airborne. Almost in slow motion they would climb higher and higher only to cross over a thin threshold, and then, gracefully return to the ground triumphantly.

Or, they would hurtle through the air, arms and legs flailing and would plummet back down to Earth, displacing with them every movable and semi-static object.

There was one young man, who successfully made jump after jump after jump. At the very end, it wasn't that he couldn't clear the height. I'm sure he could have. He just couldn't hold the pole up any more. And by the second failed attempt, when he announced that he wasn't going to try his third attempt, he looked no different, than some of the athletes I've seen cross the finish line after a 13-hour swim, bike, run.

Experiencing this level of exhaustion amidst  triumph gave me some rare insight into the nature of commitment to sport. I have never really thought that much about one sport being harder or easier than another, but I've always harboured notions that triathlon took so much more effort than most other competitive sports.

It took this experience in volunteering to realize, in the midst of my own personal exhaustion from being on my feet and working for 9 hours, that the difficulty of any sport is directly related to the attitude, effort and intensity of the athlete. Sure, endurance events take a lot out of us. They bang up our bodies and challenge our wills. But so do other sports, if the athlete commits himself or herself completely to becoming as proficient and as excellent as s/he could be.

So too does any endevour - such as working or raising kids or helping ailing parents. It is the complete commitment to the activity that takes all the effort. Anyone can show up and get a t-shirt and and finishers medal. Believing in what you are doing and why you are doing it is what it is all about.

I worked for nine hours and had this epiphany.

My child sat for roughly the same time, waiting for a turn with the pole. He then proceeded to jump higher than he's ever jumped.

At a competition in a city 9 hours away from where I was, my other child used an entirely different stick to push a small ball into a square net. That child too gave everything and returned home exhausted and hoarse, both from the journey and from the experience.

I still have so much to learn about endurance, competition and what really goes into effort.


  1. Don't understanding raking the sand. First thing I think of is a Japanese Garden (which is is a whole different thing that a track meet).

    I always thought the triathon took much more effort than any other sport as well. My tri-friend has urged me again and again to join him because he knows I can kinda swim and kinda run. But I'm no biker. So again and again, I decline.

    Congrats to your sons. To Tri (oops, I mean try) takes a whole lot of guts. People have told me this forever, mainly my father. I finally believe -- he's right!

  2. Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa ( may be another solution to hoarse and sore throat. i know a lot of people use it, its also non alcoholic, though it's effectiveness is not as good as alcohol based cough medicine, but it's still good to use on not so serious sore or hoarse throat. Hope you are getting well soon!!!

  3. I think the raking of the sand is to keep the volunteers busy...and maybe to prevent the jumpers from falling into holes. Thanks for your comment, Lauren. Oh...and one of each. Not sons. sons.
    Bette? really!?


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