Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I write mostly about cycling; I'm drawn to the sport for the "suffering," the tribulations riders put them through to get over mountains and to finish lines. But now I'll write about walking -- and the trials that the Joaquin Miller Walkathon participants put themselves through on their school's behalf.

My kids attend Joaquin Miller Elementary, a school that's had its ups and downs, but that has our full backing, and that I believe is a great place for our kids, backed by a great community of families, teachers and staff. One of the school's strongest aspects is its parent involvement; parents come together to run a number of events and elements, including the annual Walkathon.

A lot of schools around here hold walkathons: kids garner pledges to walk a certain number of laps around the school. At Joaquin Miller, a lap circumambulates Joaquin Miller and the neighboring middle school, and thus runs a full kilometer, and every year, many, many of those kilometers are walked by kids ages 5 to 11.

In our first year, when Mack was a kindergartener, I figured he'd walk seven, maybe eight kilometers, and he thus expected the same. Therein lies one of my favorite Walkathon stories: after setting this self-expectation, Mack set out to gather his per-lap pledges, and he called my dad. "Well Mack," my dad asked, "what's your goal." Mack said, "I think I'll walk seven laps." And so my dad pledged five bucks a lap.

You see what's coming.

Mack, just turned six years old, walked 22 laps. Like many other kids, he got caught up in the constant flow of walking around the schools, and he passed time talking with friends, and he was goaded on by me, and teachers, and friends -- and by the promise of a popsicle every fifth lap.

When Mack called my dad and told him he'd walked 22 laps, there was silence on the other end, followed by, "Mack, can you put your dad on the phone?" He asked me if he'd really walked 22 laps -- about 14 miles -- and I promised him he had. To which he said, "Guess I'm on the hook for $110."

Of course I think Mack's pretty special; indeed, he's been one of the top three walkers in his grade every one of his four years. But all the kids impress me -- kindergarteners slogging out 15 kilometers or more -- and fifth graders walking -- no joke here -- 50K. Over 30 miles!

This year the kids impressed me again. Many took off running at the beginning -- and some kept running for 15K or more. In our family, Declan -- not yet four years old -- walked 15 kilometers. He'd jog his funny little arm-waving jog, and then slow, and then slow further, until he'd decide to sit -- and then he'd see someone he knew, or remember the promise of the popsicle, and he'd stand up and take off running again.

Catie, meanwhile, suffered the same trouble as last year, as her feet began to ache terribly after 16 laps. She'd been determined to walk more than last year's 21, so she was horribly disappointed, actually crying "because I didn't meet my goal." (You can see how seriously these kids take this!) After she rested for awhile, Karen talked with her, and encouraged her to try a little at a time, which she did...and by the end of the day she'd walked 22 laps.

Mack, meanwhile, took some time finding his stride, as it were, first trying to keep up with other kids who were running, and sinking deep into frustration when he wasn't able to do so. But eventually he found a walking partner who wanted to approach the walk the same way he was -- steady -- and after beginning to limp with a sore foot after just 20 laps, he and his friend plugged away until they'd walked 31 laps, with about 30 minutes to go. They'd both set a goal of walking the most in the class, and they figured they needed 35 to do so; this also would have put them 3 laps ahead of their previous year's total.

With an hour to go Mack was a wreck, covering a lap every half hour, trudging along with a definite limp and a slight hunch in his back. But upon receiving word that his goal of 35 was possible, he kicked it into gear. He and his buddy picked up the pace considerably, cheering each other on with such wholesome encouragement that it seemed like caricature. With three laps needed and 20 minutes to, they decided that they only needed to start the 35th lap before time ended, before the starting gate closed, and broke into a jog, Mack unable to bend his legs for the soreness, but nonetheless moving about three times as fast as he had been earlier.

With two laps and just over ten minutes to go, Mack turned to his friend and said, completely earnest, "We can do this." To which his friend replied, "We will do this." I spent those last two laps close to tears; I felt like I was watching Hoosiers.

I kept one eye on my watch until it was clear that they'd make it; indeed, Mack and his friend walked through the starting gate and began their 35th lap with three minutes to spare. There was just one kid behind them, and they talked a bit about not wanting to be the last ones to finish. I reminded them that it didn't matter, that most of the kids had stopped walking long ago, and that they should enjoy their last lap as slowly as they wanted. But they'd started smelling the barn, and they completed the last lap nearly as quickly as the couple of previous ones.

As I walked through the finishing gate with them, I felt like there should be a crowd to cheer them on, to welcome them back -- but for all their determination, their feat wasn't particularly special, not on a day when other kids walked as far or farther; when parents volunteered for six hours or more on a Saturday; when the students, with parents' and others' help, raised tens of thousands of dollars.

That said, I'm proud as hell of my kids, and yes, particularly of Mack. If there's one thing I want to see in my kids, far more than raw talent, it's determination, and I saw it at the Walkathon.



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