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.