We were excited for this year’s marathon at the youchien (kindergarten) for two reasons: Uri was making his debut run, and Iva was the two-time defending champion (Read here: Running to win) for girls her age.
While we had no expectations for him to be like his sister, Uri turned out to be a natural lover of the tracks (probably because of his fixation with shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train), and he had been showing signs that he was just as competitive. As I would often sneak-peek at their school practices, Uri was consistently among the fastest. The excitement was building up even more.
However, the marathon came alongside the autumn transition, and the whole family had been alternating coughs, colds, and flus so much, that Uri felt feverish and had to miss school the day before the competitions.
While Uri’s fever had subsided on race day, the little boy’s debut marathon was lost and will have to wait another year, just like that.
“Uri, I’m going to run for you at the marathon. I’m going to run for you, and for Mommy (who was herself nursing a flu then),” Iva comforted her ill-fated brother.
“And for God, too, as He is the one who gives you the ability to run,” Mommy added, her sniffs of joy at Iva’s kind words apparent. “And whatever happens, always remember that we love you and we’re proud of you.”
Little did we know, Iva’s big heart would face a big heartbreak at her race later that day because just like the rest of us, she had also been weakened by the changing season.
Iva began in the middle of the pack – her strategy to not lose steam towards the end. But as the race wore on, she felt that something was awfully wrong with her stride. She could not push herself to go as fast as she wanted. And it wasn’t even barely halfway when Iva began to cry in frustration because her body had just betrayed her. This time, it would not push her further in front of the pack and finish in the only fashion she had always known: ahead of everyone else.
Last year’s runner-up finished the race uncontested as the new champion, and Iva had to settle to where her feet could take her. One to ten are numbers that go well with elementary counting but not when defending a marathon.
Iva was inconsolable.
When most needed, Regina bear-hugged her panting-sobbing little runner, even though it didn’t seem like a Japanese custom after a competition. “I was crying because I could not breathe,” Iva told her mommy, but her continued lament told us that there was more to it. She could not deliver the usual victory, and she felt that she had just let Uri, Mommy and God down, and it broke her spirit.
Iva gave me the same reason when I finally got to talk to her after her school. My shock, though, was what she had just concluded: “I don’t think I like running anymore.”
“You don’t have to like it even if Daddy and Mommy like running,” I told her, “just know that we love you no matter what. And, of course, we’re proud of you even if you didn’t finish first. Imagine, you were still Top 10, even if you couldn’t breathe!”
But I didn’t buy it, and neither did Regina.
So, the next day, Regina thought of finally giving Iva her long-delayed birthday gift to perk her up, but she’d let her run about half a kilometer to the store first. Enticed by her prize, Iva happily agreed to run alongside Mommy’s bike. She was even more delighted exiting the store with her new toy cash register (she loved playing chef and restaurant owner at home), that she decided to run another half kilometer on the way home.
Iva also ran a similar distance with me the next day, and the day after, even teasing me with a brisk walk when I was pedalling too slow.
“Daddy, I think I like running again,” Iva said, devious and smiling again.
That’s more like it, Iva. There will be bad days, but never let them steal your joy.