By Alex Knapper '18
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews. 12. 1-2.)
This is a story about perseverance, and it begins with an average day in the 7th grade. It was a pretty good day for me. General Tso’s Chicken was served at lunch, and I just needed to get through that afternoon’s cross country practice. I was elated to get out of school, go home, and sleep on the couch. Back-to-school night was scheduled for later that evening, so I would be on my own at home. It was set up to be the best day of the week.
Practice started with our standard stretches, and then Coach Wolfe told us to do our two laps around the meadow. Nothing I couldn’t handle. So, with a couple of buddies of mine, we started with our laps on the sidewalk. However, I carelessly neglected to notice the small ledge between the grass and the pavement. I tripped, and landed on my right arm on the sidewalk. I was surprised, never expecting to trip on such a miniscule ledge; but I shrugged it off, and kept going. As the team started the pilgrim loop, something in my arm didn’t feel right. At first, I thought it was just an abrasion, nothing more. Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that my arm was bent in an unusual way. Instead of being straight like you see here (demonstrate with my arm), the hand was a bit lower than the rest of the wrist. The more time that passed, the more it hurt. I went to see Coach Brian, praying that that it wasn’t anything too bad. My hopes were not met. In the most honest way possible, Coach Brian said the words, “Yup, that arm is definitely broken.” I went to the hospital, my parents never made it to back-to-school night, and my perfect day was ruined; and that, friends, is the lame story of how I broke my wrist during a cross country warm-up lap.
So, back to the present, and to the subject of perseverance. Even after my totally traumatizing experience in the 7th grade, I didn’t give up on cross country. Even though I’m not the best runner, I still do it. I do it because I enjoy the competition, and most of all, I enjoy running and the company of my teammates. To me, these things are what matters most, and that is why I have persisted in doing it even when it can be hard. Being able to persevere in the face of a previously difficult or traumatizing experience brings us closer to excellence and to glory. The will to push on, even after failing, is important to us as humans; it shows us what we are truly capable of and helps us to achieve our full potential. Giving up, although it might seem like the easy way out, will often prevent us from achieving our goals and our true path.
Consider the plight of Dan Jansen, for example. Dan Jansen was an American Olympic speedskater who competed in the 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1994 games. In ‘84, he placed 16th in the 1000 meter and fourth in the 500 meter and didn’t win a medal. In ‘88, he fell in both the 500 meter and 1000 meter races. In ‘92, he finished fourth in both the 500 and 1000. Finally, in ‘94, he won Gold in the 1000 meter race, successfully finishing off his Olympic career.
There is no doubt that Jansen must have contemplated quitting after facing failure in the Olympics. However, he kept striving, he kept training, and he kept fighting towards what he wanted. He didn’t quit, and as a result, he attained the greatest glory an Olympic athlete could ever achieve.
Perseverance, willpower, and overcoming obstacles apply to our daily lives as well. As humans, we will inevitably be met with heartbreaking events that will contribute to our lives. Whether it be a bad score on a test, a tragic event with a family member, or not having things go the way we want, our power to push forward, our ability to overcome obstacles before us -- in other words, our perseverance -- will be tested. From that point, it becomes a choice. A choice of whether we want to give up, or instead, whether we want to shrug off the blows, learn what went wrong, and push forward. Not only will we fight on for ourselves, but we will also fight on for each other. The reading today says that because we are surrounded by witnesses, we should run the race with perseverance, and when it feels insurmountable the determination and sacrifice of Jesus at the end of his life is offered to us as a way to think about what is worth living for and where we can look for strength. Pushing forward and enduring failure and loss can also inspire our peers and makes us better humans and better friends. When we have overcome an obstacle, we may be more sympathetic to someone else experiencing a similar challenge. It becomes an opportunity to reach out in support of them. As a community, this is relevant more than ever.
So, now, going into the new semester, I ask of you this: Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t let defeat or difficulties get you down. Persevere, and carry on. Show that your willpower, your commitment, and your drive is stronger than failure. Push forward to satisfy yourself, and to support your classmates and your fellow Bulldogs. MLK Jr. once said, “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” And if it ever seems bad, consider all the inspiring people through history that have beaten insurmountable odds - not just in competition but in the daily hardships of life. People like Nelson Mandela or John Lewis; and if Jansen went back to the 1994 Olympics, after failing three times already, and was able to come back and win the gold medal, then with the help of your faith, your family, and a community that loves you, you can do anything you set your mind to as well. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord.