Unexpected changes are part of life. Last week I had to make changes when prior travel arrangements unexpectedly were no longer viable. Little did I know how positive this would be for myself….and perhaps many others. I called a friend of mine named Butch Peters for assistance to get from a bus station and to the race site. He and I have known each other for years through his sons and I competing at many of the same events.
He requested that I could change my ticket to fly into Chicago and then ride with him to the USA 1 Hour Race Walk National Championship in Chicago. Butch Peters is coach for the Elgin Sharks Track Club in the Greater Chicago area.
Upon flying to Chicago we watched streaming footage of the men’s 20k Race Walk at the Olympics. It was incredible and exhilarating to watch. Later the same afternoon I had joined the Sharks for their team practice. I was getting the opportunity to meet a group of about 11 Race Walkers all under 18, who regularly meet and train together. It was like nothing I have seen before in my 8 year career. Unlike New York and Maine, there are no High School programs (yet) in any other states to help develop the talent and depth for the USA until the college level and this is if they choose an the NAIA level in college or a non NAIA college that supports their athletic aspirations in the race walk. Butch Peters and Diane Graham- Henry have been persistent in their efforts, time and resources to help this group make the most of great opportunities in race walking. I found the group to be humble, personable and eager to learn. For them I feel there is much potential opportunities and potential. Even if not at the highest levels of sport, there is much to gain in life that one learns through race walking.
The next day was the USA 1 hour National Championship in Milwaukee, WI. I rode up with Coach Butch Peters and a couple of the athletes. The rest of the athletes and their parents were at the venue upon our arrival. the one male in the group named Alvero had eagerly anticipated warming up together. Though we did different warm ups I can tell he looked up to me. I was much the same when working with other greats in race walking such as 2 x Olympian Tim Seaman among many others.
I was leading the race and shortly after 8k was disqualified. I had 3 violations for loss of contact which is one of the two rules that competitors in the race walk have to be in compliance with. There were about 10 people, some who happen to be certified judges informing me that they thought I looked fine. I appreciated the validation but disqualification is something that everyone risks in our event. In fact, there is a saying that one is not a true race walker until experiencing disqualification. I see it as a learning and truly a character building opportunity. When given red cards, or being disqualified, I seek out the judges to learn what they are seeing that caught their attention, so that I can learn from it. But the negative emotions that accompany a disqualification is where an athlete needs to have a short memory, other than it being channeled for motivation.
The paradigm shift during this trip was when upon my disqualification and exiting the track track I received a round of applause from the Elgin Sharks. Here I was at a moment that would seem to be one of shame, and defeat and here was the very same group of kids and teens I met just a day prior congratulating me and some told me they could not believe how fast I was. I was truly touched. In fact I shared what would have been a bitter result to one of celebration and joy as I watched them compete and and the ladies win the team championships! I hope my personal outcome showed the junior athletes that a DQ can happen to any of the athletes and honestly it was probably better I who can keep this in perspective of the long term, than have it be upon the youth who are still learning to deal with the many nuances of race walking and teenage life simultaneously.
Another incident shaped my perspective, and that was my wife sending me a video of our 5 month old who is starting to move around often and can roll over on his stomach. I had them to look forward to seeing upon my return home. After a safe flight and making my way to our home, I received what felt like a Champions welcome when neighbors in my ethnically diverse Toronto neighborhood were asking me how I did. Lastly, my wife was just about to take our son on a walk through our neighborhood. I gladly scooped him up and enjoyed quality time that cannot be quantified to a result but one that is a brief span of cherished time, in life.