Yesterday my sister called me and invited me out to one of the local high schools to watch my niece, Jessica, compete in the countywide sixth grade girls cross-country race. I didn't know they even had a race like that for sixth graders, but I have since discovered that it is a very big deal in Tallahassee. Shows how much of an athlete I was in middle school.
I shuffled around some of my hearings this morning and headed to the high school. When I arrived you would have thought there was a Florida State/Miami game going on. Well, maybe not that big, but there were a lot of people in attendance. Most of the girls were tall and lanky and all decked out in running gear (timing watches, arm bands, etc.).
Jessica, on the other hand, does not fit the tall and lanky mold. No timing watch or arm band either. She is small to middle sized for her age, pony tailed and always smiling. I would imagine that those who saw Jess line up beside the 140 or so other girls would not have given her much of a chance against them. Those who don't know Jessica, anyway.
But those of us who do know Jess knew exactly what to expect. Her heart is bigger than her height and her mind incredibly determined. She has always been that way.
When the girls were lined up to begin the race I noticed that she would not only be racing against the sixth graders, but all middle school grades (sixth through eighth). She began the race in the back half of the pack. By the time she made it around the first lap of the track and headed out of the fence for the cross country portion she had moved to eighth overall.
My sister, brother-in-law and I climbed to the top of the bleachers to get a better look at the runners as they circled the high school campus. We were able to catch brief glimpses of Jessica before she disappeared around the main building. It appeared that at the midway point she had moved into fifth place. As the runners came back into sight one tall eighth grader was well out in front (this girl eventually won). Then another girl, then another girl, then Jessica in fourth place.
As the girls came down the hill and neared the entrance to the track several of the older girls were able to overtake Jess. By the time she entered the gate and ran back onto the track she was in eighth place. Good. But Jess wasn't satisfied.
With about twenty yards left she trailed the seventh place girl by about fifteen feet. I watched her eyes and saw in them the same look of determination I have seen many times before. She began to speed up. With about ten yards left she made up 10 feet on the girl. Jessica was now about five feet behind. Her pace quickened even more and by the time Jess crossed the finish line she had overtaken the girl and beat her by about a yard.
As it turns out, Jessica came in seventh overall and first among the sixth graders. This may just be uncle-ly pride, but it would not surprise me to see Jess competing in an Olympic sport during the next decade or so. GO JESS!!!