When my son was young he didn't participate in a lot of the popular contact sports that most youngsters do. He had become involved in speed-skating at an early age; and with 2 hour skating practices 4 days a week, there was just no time for anything else. Because of this time commitment, he was not able to become very proficient at sports like baseball and basketball.
Even before I had kids, I had been a fan of Dr. James Dobson: Christian counselor and author; founder of the organization Focus on the Family. I believed Dr. Dobson when he said that kids should have something they can excel in, something they can do to gain practical self-esteem. That thought just seemed to make a lot of sense to me, so I was looking for something in which Matt could participate.
Skating seemed to fit well with Matt. He loved it, he was good at it, and I didn't have to sit outside in inclement weather at ballparks. Plus, it seemed like a good group of kids, that took their sport seriously. All positive reasons, I thought, to allow him to become involved. I didn't intend for him to become quite as involved as he did, however. We had no Olympic aspirations in mind....Still, once involved, he had to decide to become a part of the team and attend all practices; or he really would be just wasting his time, as well as possibly becoming a stumbling block for the rest of the team. He went for it. We were never really sorry he did. It gave him something to be proud of - as I had hoped - and it gave him a means to be good at something that not every one was. There was one group of kids with whom he associated, that for some reason he had become the easy target. He was always the brunt of their jokes, and they pretty much made sure he knew they were always better than him. This was an equalizer in my mind. They couldn't pick on him here. He "owned" this sport.
During this time in Matt's life, another group he was involved with had monthly skating sessions at the local roller-skating rink. This was a great bunch of kids and they were his peers. Each month they had races for separate age groups and it wasn't long before everyone realized Matt was going to win in his age group. Granted, he had speed skates and he had hours and hours of training; and maybe I shouldn't have let Matt skate in these races, as most of the other kids were primarily just once or twice a month skaters. But he enjoyed it, and he had worked hard at being good at something, and I thought this was his time to shine. Nothing wrong with that, I thought, after getting "beat up" (figuratively not literally) in other areas. Everyone else got to do what they were good at and no one held back.
I always made sure, I was there to watch Matt in his race, and cheer him on. I wanted him to know I was supportive of his endeavors. In my excitement over Matt's abilities which gave him an "equalizer", there was something very important that I had missed. As I was always cheering Matt on, I failed to realize that Matt's cousin, - my nephew, Isaac -was also skating in these races. I will never forget it when I finally saw him. He wasn't the last one across the line, by any means; but all of a sudden there he was. Skating his hardest, with a big smile on his face; and coming across that finish line with in-line skates that only had two wheels each - one on the front of each skate and one at the back. For maximum effectiveness, each skate should have 4-5 wheels. I watched him a bit, feeling pretty darn guilty that I hadn't cheered him on. And then...what did he do when he finished? He skated over to Matt, gave him a high-five and told him good job. Pretty amazing, I'd say. There were other kids there that wouldn't participate in the race because they believed they couldn't win, so why bother.
But then there was Isaac! Skating just for the race, the participation, the fun....and just maybe because there is ALWAYS a chance to win. That's a winning attitude! That's the challenge, that's the sport of it! Neither does one have to be first to be a winner. He was trying against the odds, with poor equipment, and with a smile on his face. He didn't need attention and he didn't need to win. He simply tried. Matt and I talked about that later and Matt told me, "I know, Mom; he always skates the races, and he always tells me good job."
Isaac is gone now; taken from us at a much too early age. There are many things I remember about Isaac, but when I think about defining who he was, this example from his life stands out prominently in my mind. Without a doubt, Isaac's actions were the better win and this example defines exactly who he was. Clearly, that is something for us all to aspire.