Choose Your Game

Yao Ming

On the wrong side of the rail­way tracks in Zhengzhou city, cen­tral Chi­na, you can find some ugly old con­crete class­rooms built around a small paved sports ground. It is a rail­way tech­ni­cal col­lege to train nurs­es and logis­tics stu­dents, 19 year old kids most­ly from the coun­try. Last term they kept telling me that Yao Ming was the most famous per­son they could think of.

Now it is vaca­tion time. The place is desert­ed. On the long evenings when I go down to run in the half light of dusk I’m alone, almost. There’s this boy, maybe 12, who knows. He’s short, very short, but there he is every evening patient­ly lob­bing a ball at one of the hoops. Nobody is there to applaud him. Maybe he’s nev­er going to be Yao Ming, but he loves the game. That’s what counts. I wish we could talk, but my Chi­nese is too prim­i­tive. The Bei­jing Olympics? I can live with­out it, but boy, that would be the biggest deal in HIS life.

About forty-sev­en years ago in a down-at-heel inner city high school not so dif­fer­ent from this one I learned to run. It was Syd­ney, Aus­tralia. Yeah, I did bas­ket­ball too, but run­ning was the thing. For most peo­ple sport is a team thing, but I’ll be a lone ranger until my last breath. Any­way, we had a physics teacher who coached the dis­tance run­ning. He mea­sured every­thing that had a name — blood pres­sure, heart rate, body fat, height, weight .. you name it. He was a nice man. One day he took me aside and kind­ly said, “Thor, you are wast­ing your time. You are not made to be a run­ner. You are nev­er going to win a race.”

Well, I have nev­er won a foot race. He was right, in a sil­ly way. At the time I thought “damn you!”, and kept on run­ning. There’s a les­son in that. At just on 63 I am still run­ning, and doing stair climbs, and 300 body press­es a day. None of that is for van­i­ty, or win­ning races. It is for the joy of life, and with that ener­gy and good health there is so much more to give back to my stu­dents. For thir­ty-two years in sev­en coun­tries I’ve taught count­less stu­dents as a pro­fes­sion­al teacher. They have come all shapes and sizes, the fit­ness freaks and the slobs, the lon­ers and the social but­ter­flies. My trade is lan­guage teach­ing, not Phys Ed, but the best help I can ever give them comes by exam­ple : you choose your game, you do it for the love of excel­lence, you keep run­ning, and by the mea­sure that counts most, you will win.

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