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The Littlest Heroes

May 24, 2017

I’ll bet if you needed to, you could tell me who won the 100M dash at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. You could tell me who finished 2rd in the 2013 Boston Marathon. You could even tell me who finished 3rd at in the 2016 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance car race.

But, those races had many more participants. From a few more in the 100M dash to hundreds more in the Boston Marathon. We remember, and honor the winners. This post is about those who didn’t come in first, or second, or even third. I won’t call them the losers, although in a strict “zero-sum-game” accounting there can only be a single winner. Still, I don’t think the rest of the participants don’t fit the definition of losers.

Like most sports leagues, the National Football League (NFL) holds an annual draft to allow teams to pick new players. Unlike other leagues, the NFL specifically recognizes the last player drafted. He’s given the title of Mr. Irrelevant. Far from being a “loser,” in the past Mr. Irrelevant has played in Super Bowls and set NFL records.

As many of you know, I went hiking last weekend. It was a hard hike. And we had several boys on their first hike. My days of leading the pack in a physcial activity are long gone. I’m a slow hiker and I know it. It doesn’t bother me since I don’t see it as a competition. Being slow means that I get to play “sweeper.” I’m the last leader and my job is to make sure all the boys are in front of me. So, as slow as I hike, I cannot go any faster than the slowest boy.

I spent a lot of time on the trail with these stragglers. I talk to them, although they are often out of breath from the hike. I encourage them. I joke with them. And when we finally arrive at the end of the trail, I tell them the same lame joke,

Once again I have cleverly tricked all of you into finishing before me.

We hiked 12 miles on Friday and Saturday. The “older” boys (13 versus 12) finished in about 5-6 hours. The younger boys finished in more like 7-8 hours.

It’s easy to think of the hike in terms of a race. We could chart out first place, second and so on. And, of course, we could easily identify our Mr. Irrelevant. But, I don’t see it that way. It’s really about doing hard things. And who did the hard thing?

Two years ago we did this hike and my son, who was 12 at the time was that last boy. We were hiking in the rain and it was cold and windy. The trail has many steep drop offs to the canyon floor a hundred feet or more below. My son was especially nervous about the cliffs and the drops offs. Being his dad, I offered to walk beside him on the narrow trail. I would put myself between him and the drop off.

Are you sure you have enough room to walk over there, Dad?

I’m fine. There’s plenty of room. You just focus on the trail.

Actually? Every other step started a minor rock slide. The trail was not much more than 24″ wide. With each step I scrambled to keep my feet from sliding off.

When we finally reached camp, I asked him, within earshot of the rest of the scouts,

Which one of us was bravest on the trail?

Well, you were. I was afraid until you were willing to walk on the edge. That was really brave.

Wrong. I wasn’t brave at all. In fact, the trail didn’t scare me at all. How can you be brave if you don’t have to overcome a fear? But, you, on the other hand were really nervous. And yet, you kept going. You faced your fear and conquered it. That is what bravery is: being afraid and doing it anyway.

The following year, my son walked the trail with confidence. His fear no more than a memory.

I feel the same way about the order our hikers finish in. The boys at the front should be commended for completing a difficult hike. But, for many of them, it was not as large a challenge. They regularly do strenuous physical activities and while this might have been a little harder than they are used to, it wasn’t completely out of their comfort zone.

But, the small guys, the young guys, our Mr. Irrelevant had to do something that they literally thought was beyond them. They had to dig down and find the will to go on when they weren’t sure they could take one more step. Every one of our boys carried their own gear up and down the mountain. They carried their own food and water, sleeping bag and clothes. As they finally walk out of Battle Creek Canyon at the end of the hike, they had come to embody a quote by famous coach Vince Lombardi.

I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.

So, by all means, praise those who finish first, the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, but also realize that victory is overcoming the limitations you create in your own mind. And save some praise for the littlest heroes as well.

1. Usain Bolt of Jamacia won the 100M gold in Beijing with a world record time of 9.72 seconds
2. Micah Kogo of Kenya took second at the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:10:27
3. Audi Sport Team Joest took third at Le Mons with drivers Loic Duval from France, Lucas di Grassi from Brazil and Oliver Jarvis from the UK with 372 laps completed

Mr. Irrelevant 2017 was Chad Kelly, a QB from Mississippi, selected by the Denver Broncos with the 253rd pick.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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