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On Your Marks. Get Set. GO!

My favorite season is upon us! Cross-country season has begun. Three days a week, I run with a half dozen volunteer coaches and approximately 35 kids through the hills and trails of the nearby state parks. We run in the rain or shine and we've had an eventful beginning to the cross-country season. I had an unfortunate encounter with a wasp nest at our second practice. One of the older kids got stung too. Ouch! That was definitely not fun! The weather has been humid and hot, but that doesn't stop us from running. These kids' work ethics are extremely impressive. They just keep running, and they love it.

When we decided to homeschool the children, we were often asked: "What are you going to do for social activities or athletics with the kids?" I usually answered with a bit of humor: "That sounds like a challenge for future Greg." The truth is we did not know what to do. We did not know many people in the community, and we didn't know anything about the sports leagues in the area. We only lived here in Delaware for about a year, and it was only about eight months after moving here that everything shut down. This was an early obstacle for sure, but didn't make us waiver on our decision to homeschool. We felt homeschooling would be the best way to provide our children with a Catholic education.

We had sometime to figure out what activities we could get them involved in and where we could meet other families. Our oldest was in second grade at the time, and we weren't overly concerned with him being in sports yet. I looked into baseball leagues for our two oldest to play in the spring, but I could not find a baseball league without a draft. I could not find a league that would let me have both kids on the same team either. I was surprised to see that the leagues in our area are highly competitive, even for 7-year-olds. We decided it was best to wait and see what else was out there.

One day during the summer, I turned on the computer to search for Catholic homeschool groups or diocesan leagues they could join. I emailed the diocese athletic office and fortunately discovered our oldest was eligible to join cross-country in third grade on our parish's school team. We signed our big guy up to run in the fall, and I volunteered to help coach the team. He was very excited to join a team in the fall, and I looked forward to running alongside him. I am not sure he fully understood what he was "getting into." He struggled at first, but he would keep trucking along with a big smile on his face. He especially smiled when he ran by his Mama.

Cross-country in the fall and spring track have been fun for the whole family. Races for cross-country are usually at the state parks, which are great places to bring children. Our kids love watching the big kids run and waiting for them to pass by so they can cheer. The schools take turns hosting the races and often organize a "fun run" for the younger kids after the teams finish. The host team hands out metals and snacks to the children when they cross the finish line. It is a fun day for all all the kids. We love watching their little feet go too!

Moreover, I love how conducive running is as a metaphor for understanding how to persevere in the faith. Saint Paul used the notion of running a race in his letters several times to encourage his audience to be unceasing in their faith. He's inspiring because he conveys urgency in remaining focused on Jesus through hardship while using athletic language. Hebrews 12:1-2 is a great example. Saint Paul says, "persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus." He sort of sounds like a parent who tells children to put one foot in front of the other when they walk and to keep their eyes on where they are going.

Running is tough, and racing isn't very comfortable either. The greatest opposition you face when you run is the voice of doubt inside your head. My son looks like a different runner this year. He looks like he has learned to ignore that voice of self-doubt. This year he is focused on running hard with tremendous willpower. The look on his face is adorable too. I can tell that he wants to push himself, and he is content with being uncomfortable because he wants to win. I a excited to see him be competitive this year.

There are many virtues we can learn from athletics. In sports, kids discover what it feels like to give their best effort, compete, accomplish achievements, learn patience and focus on the goal. They learn the desire to win, and best of all, they have fun! We discovered how much fun running season is for the whole family. We also recently found a group of Catholic homeschooling families who welcomed us into their community for outdoor sports and social activities.

For now, the children are too young to fully comprehend St. Paul's athletic themed exhortations of persevering in the faith. That is where I find meaning in all of this and it's a lesson for their "future selves". In the meantime, it is my job to do whatever I can to show them the way. It is our job as parents to do whatever is in our power to walk them right into heaven so they can say, "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith". (2 Timothy 4:7)

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