|Owen (#3320!) ready and anxious for the race to start|
Owen's track and field trainer has been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to send him to an area race, and last week told us of the historic circuito atletico de las playas (athletic circuit of the beaches) to be held in Iquique on Mother's Day weekend. Sponsored by the municipality and open to neighboring cities, apparently this race was a tradition for decades but in recent years was suspended by the previous mayor. The current mayor reinstated the race this year and though the participation - especially in the younger groups - was small, the hope is to regain momentum for the future.
Arriving early to Playa Cavancha, Owen and I observed the set up of tents and tables until it was time to sign him in for the "Delfines" group of children born in 2005 & 2006. He received his number - 3320 - and anxiously skipped around doing some warm ups but mainly feeling a little nervous and a lot impatient for things to begin! We chatted briefly with another family who had a daughter running in the age group above Owen's, and another little daughter running in the youngest group. It was their first time to participate in a formal event as well.
At one point a group of young runners invited Owen to warm up with them. He was more than happy to have some direction and company, and it was fun to watch the group jogging around the outskirts of the beach and doing their stretches together. The young athletes seemed friendly but focused. Later I would understand why, but for the time I was just impressed that they would reach out to Owen and happy he was enjoying himself.
Growing up as a minority in Iquique (or anywhere, for that matter) naturally lends itself to stares and questions and curious comments. For the most part our family is somewhat used to that. (Several years ago I wrote a post entitled Reverse Racism about Owen's experiences with this as a little boy.)
At the race with Owen, I again fielded the usual questions ("Where is he from?") but noticed a different kind of appraisal from the participants. Rather than focusing on his skin color, they would give him a head to toe look over and then generally nod their heads in approval. I was told, "He has a privileged bone structure! We (Chileans) don't have that." And, "He must be a bullet!" And, "He has the perfect physique, so light and lean."
But my favorite comment had nothing to do with Owen's physical frame. It was from a middle-aged runner who told me that as a young boy, his father discouraged him from pursuing sports and only recently as an adult had he taken up running again. He praised the fact that I was giving my son the support that he didn't have growing up. That warmed my heart, especially considering that I am no athlete and this entire context is brand new to me!
At the race, I was approached by the coach for the IND (Instituto Nacional de Deporte) which is a government program for training young athletes. He encouraged me to have Owen train with their group twice a week. As it turned out, his were the athletes who invited Owen to warm up with them and who incidentally later performed very well in the competition. Interestingly, this trainer is from Mexico but he works with the younger children in track and field on behalf of the IND. I also met the director of a school in Iquique called Colegio Deportivo (Sport School) and he introduced me to their track and field trainer (the latter I know by sight because he and his students are often at the stadium when Owen trains.)
I've heard that there is a companionship between runners, and that certainly seemed to be true of our experience yesterday. I appreciated the warmth and interest of the people we met. Most of all, though, I enjoyed watching Owen run! He finished far ahead of his competition. He did express some disappointment to not have competed against boys his own size (since the competition was by age, and he is head and shoulders over most Chilean boys his age.) But I told him I was very proud that he did not let that hold him back from doing his very best.
We had to wait until all the other races ended in order for the awards ceremony to take place, but it was worth it to witness Owen at the top of the stand shaking hands with the mayor of Iquique and receiving his coveted gold medal. His track and field trainer told him to win a medal for his mom for Mother's Day, and he did! It was a fun first experience for us both. As we walked away I reminded Owen to thank God because ultimately his abilities are a gift from Him, and Owen agreed. Now to wait and see what else God has in store for our little runner!