The Sprinter on the Anthill

One early morning last week, I was out walking and happened upon an encouraging sight that transported me back to a simpler time when I was young, had more hair, and much less belly. 

I was out on Industrial, down the hill at the Rec, making my now long-memorized loop around the ball fields and on past the football and soccer arenas and into the parking lot where parents and loved ones cheer on the youngins who make their way (sometimes in the wrong direction) around the T-ball diamonds. 

I was three miles into the walk, talking heads debating the future of Cristiano Ronaldo playing in my ears, when I saw a young man up at the head of the lot, over by what I think was either a No Parking sign or a Slow Down sign. I really don’t know which. 

He had his hands on his hips, and he would bend down ever few seconds in the universal language of someone trying to fill his body with oxygen. 

I walked about another 20 yards or so and watched him drop his hands, face the big hill that Lakeside cross country runners call the Anthill, and take off at full sprint. I kept my eyes on his ascent. He didn’t stop until he was at the top of the hill. He paused, hands on knees now, and looked back the way he came in a “why am I doing this to myself” kinda way. 

Training for football season is the reason why I would imagine. I never got a look at the young man’s face. I kept on walking, and he kept on sprinting. Don’t know what school he lays claim to nor what position he plays. In truth, it’s presumptive of me to assume he’s a football player and not just someone out punishing his body for the fun of it. So please humor this Southern boy, who grew up on the voice of Jim Hawthorne and the arm of Joe Montana, when I called this fella a gridiron gladiator. 

Watching him reminded me it was nearly August, and it took me back to those dreaded heat-filled days. Back when two-a-days were still a thing, and if you didn’t put in summer workouts, you were ostracized by the older, veteran players. This fella was working hard like we used to, and it did me good to see it. 

Now this isn’t a “kids are lazy” spiel. I know that it’s human nature for older generations to deem those who follow them to be soft and weak. I really believe a lot of Baby Boomers think Millennials are still in high school when in actuality they are all in their 30s and early 40s. Older generations reckon they were tougher, smarter, and not the “snowflakes” that young folk are today. I’m not really going to get into that other than to say I absolutely disagree with it. Remember that the Silent Generation deemed their kids to be lazy and shiftless until World War 2, and those same lazy and shiftless kids went on to be called the Greatest. All kids are different, you know. 

Putting that debate aside (for this bit of scribble at least), watching this dude sprint up that hill made me happy. I try to talk to God on my walks, give thanks for creation as I listen to the bird calls and see all that is green and good in the world. I humbly ask Him to show me ways to please Him and to see purpose in everything that comes my way no matter the dismay. And invariably I always see or feel something that touches me in the soul. The sprinter filled that role on this day. 

The atheist or Deist or just generally grumpy skeptic would attribute these moments to be nothing more than my brain rewarding me with endorphins for getting my prodigious butt off the couch and raising my heart rate, breaking a sweat, and soaking in some Vitamin D. To them, everything is ones and zeroes, coincidence, and nothing more. A simple turn of chance that two people were out exercising at the same time at a place built for moving your body. 

To them I say, phooey. 

It did my old, middle-aged heart good to see a young one putting in the work to make themselves better and stronger for the tough days ahead. But I feel that way about anyone who works hard with a goal in mind. Laziness is rampant in our world, but it’s always been that way. It’s not a virus that circulates only among the teens (or as us GenXers and the Boomers incorrectly label Millennials). It’s all around. We just see it more now as we live in our own echo chambers where likes and hits drive our dopamine receptors and others laughing at our silly jokes makes us feel good. 

The truth is that there will always be hard workers. There will always be people who will do more than others because they have something inherent inside of them. It’s called drive, grit, determination. It cannot be taught. It cannot be instilled. You either have it or you don’t. No one can convince me otherwise. And every time I see someone working hard, my heart is lifted. Because I know that where there is hard work there is also good, and God still moving among us. The hard workers help keep the world a place worth living in. 

They counterbalance the lazy and slothful. The deceitful and delusional. The pariahs and the parasites.  The politicians. They are a reason for which the world should be thankful. 

About 30 minutes later, I came back around on a second loop. He was still at it. So, to that sprinter, I say good luck come fall. Maybe all those grueling trips up the hill will pay off under those Friday Night Lights. And even if they don’t, that’s no matter. Just run faster, stretch out your arms further, and one fine morning …

(Josh Beavers is a teacher and former award-winning journalist. He has five times been awarded for excellence in opinion writing by the Louisiana Press Association.)

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