Why I'm Proud Of My Son For Finishing Last

by Kristin Gambaccini
A boy running a marathon who is finishing last
Kristin Gambaccini

My second oldest son recently finished his first year running cross country for his middle school team. It was a season full of hard work, commitment, and grief. Lots of grief.

This isn’t an “I’m so proud of my kid because he’s a #1 winner” post.

This is an “I’m so proud of my kid because he’s a #1 loser” post.

You read that right. He lost. A lot. So much that I thought my heart would break. But, he never knew I felt that way. I would slap on my mom smile and scream “You’re doing great buddy!” as he struggled to finish his race. There were times he crossed that finish line, and I held back tears that were equally sad and proud. He never cried – although I am sure he wanted to.

And let’s be real, it had to be embarrassing – it had to be really hard to start a race knowing beforehand that you were most likely going to be last. Could you do that? I am not sure I could. In the beginning of the season he tried to come up with plenty of excuses to get out of practice, but we wouldn’t let him. We wanted him to understand that he was part of a team and his team depended on him. He eventually stopped trying to skip out and accepted that he was going regardless of his desire to not go.

Let me backtrack…

As his mother, I can honestly say that he has never been a star athlete. He trips over his own feet. Literally. But when Edward and I found out that a handful of his friends were joining the team, we encouraged him to join too.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hey, I think you should run cross country this year.”

Kid: “No thanks.”

Me: “I really think you should. You might enjoy it.”

Kid: “That’s okay. Running’s not my thing.”

Me: “Well it could be your thing if you tried it.”

Kid: “I’d really rather not.”

Me: “Okay, I am going to sign you up. All of your friends are doing it!”

Kid: (This is the part where he didn’t say anything and just stared at me. I am pretty sure what he was thinking was “Did you not just hear what I said mom?!”)

Listen. Middle school is hard. Middle school can downright suck. We felt like the more opportunities he had to spend with kids outside of school, the better. Not to mention being a part of a team can broaden a child’s comfort levels and encourage them to become friends with kids they may have never met before. Plus, he’d be spending time outside away from electronics, nothing but fresh air, blah, blah, blah.

He didn’t want to do it. He expressed he didn’t want to do it. I signed him up anyway. Maybe that’s why my mom guilt was at an all-time high – it was all my doing.

Now, to be clear, Edward and I have since solemnly pinky swore to him that unless he chooses to do so, we will NEVER, EVER, EVER again make him partake in a school sport. EVER. And we are okay with that agreement. All along we thought we were teaching our child about perseverance and teamwork. And while I do think those lessons were learned, he taught Edward and me so much more.

There was a moment during one of his final races that he managed to finish before two other kids. As soon as his feet crossed the finish line, this amazing child of mine turned around to cheer on the two boys behind him.

This was the moment. This was when I realized my kid was winning. He is winning at being good, kind and humble. Life is about learning how to pick yourself up and keep running no matter how often you lose the race. And this kid is winning.

He may not be an amazing athlete, but he is the kind of guy I would want on my team. He will give it his all and lose like a winner. Over and over.

Lesson learned.