Last month as I watched nationally-ranked high jumper Tyus Wilson from Sterling compete at our Hillsboro CKTL meet, I was struck by a distinctive element of track and field: no matter where you come from, how small your town or school is, how good your team is, an individual athlete has the chance to excel. And sometimes, like Tyus, a top national mark is set at a small, rural America meet.
Even though not every athlete will take a national spotlight, personal records are set each meet by a range of athletes — in fact, many of our Hillsboro athletes set PRs at that particular meet — and my guess is, each team represented had athletes who could raise their hand to the question, “who set a PR at the Hillsboro meet?” That particular element of track and field is no doubt exciting. But the athletes competing individually are also competing as a team.
For every individual place, first through sixth, points are allotted to the represented team. At the end of the meet, points are tallied, and the team with the highest total wins. Two years ago, our boys team took second in Class 2A at the state track meet. At our CKTL both Hillsboro teams took third in their respective divisions.
As I pondered all of this the morning after, rehashing the meet as a coach does, I ran across a Tweet by Sarah E. Westfall where she said:
“When it comes to our stories, we seem to think that our individual narrative is either too important or not important enough. I have done both. But what if instead of attaching value to our stories we saw them as an avenue of connection? Not a measure of worth but a way to love?”
And of course, I thought of track and field. In the sport, ideally an athlete holds a balance between individual performance and team performance. An athlete’s individual performance is important — there wouldn’t be track and field without individuality — but it’s certainly not the only and utmost. Each athlete is inter-connected to his or her teammates. As a coach, it’s exciting to see athletes buy into this reality, to make individual sacrifices for the team, to go the extra mile (sometimes literally) to score some additional team points.
Inter-connectedness is important, and holds its value off the track. As humans, we all have stories that are both individual and also interconnected. Just a quick scan of the last week will display the truth of that statement for each of us. This is where Westfall’s questions are important. If we don’t hold our stories with balance, we’ll error in two ways: we’ll think our stories are of utmost importance, or of no significance. Neither way is true. For instance, Tyus’ high jump of 7’2” gained him national acclaim (he’s also improved his mark as the season progresses), but his win contributed no more points to his team’s total than our team’s kids who didn’t set national records but placed first in their events. Each first equals 10 points; no more, no less.
To me, this is striking.
In a culture that often idolizes individuality, it can be easy to pretend that we live our lives independent of others. But that’s just not true. Rather, we live out our individual stories in the context of a communal story. Every decision, action, word, deed, has an impact beyond the self.
We’re individuals but we’re also connected. Our stories are both individual and corporate. We must strike a balance, accepting both elements, remembering that, like Westfall says, sharing our lives is not about worth, but a way to love.
This article has been edited from its original version published at www.malindajust.com.
Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com, or find her on social media @MalindaDJust.