Most people know that I have grown up with a Dad who was a very fast runner, and he is also currently one of the top high school cross country coaches in the nation. My sister was a state champion and ran on a full scholarship for a DI school. I guess you could say I have grown up around the sport. Seeing my dad run from a very small age, and growing up around his athletes defiantly planted beliefs in my mind from an early age. The first time I ever ran for a time was in 3rd grade. We had to run the mile in P.E., and I ran the fastest time in the class. Up to this point I never ran, I was a carefree kid who's parents let me spend my days playing with the neighbor kids in the woods behind my house building forts. But after that day in P.E. running became a form of social acceptance. I wasn't the biggest kid in school (I am still pretty short :) ), and this was the first thing I found that somewhat defined who I was. My new definition became "the fast kid". I was excited to run home and tell my dad what I had completed the mile in that day. When I told him what I had done he smiled, but was more concerned about if I had fun running. It wasn't until almost a year later that I ran again. The lady who babysat me after school had enrolled her kids in the cross country program at a local elementary school, and asked my parents if it was ok for her to sign me up. My parents asked if I wanted to do it and I said sure. For me at that moment I wasn't sure if I liked running or not. I won the 4 races we ran that season (1.5miles), and it was at this point running changed for me. My parents never put any pressure on me, they did not care about what times I ran, there only concern was that I was having fun. People would put expectations on me and my dad would quickly play them down. But as a kid I would hear these expectations from other people outside my family, and wanted to fulfill them.
Everywhere I went from that point on I would hear the words "that is Hadway's kid". This built a thought in my mind at a very young age that I wanted to make my dad and mom proud. I was running at this point to fulfill the expectations that other people outside my family had put on me. In middle school I was still enrolled at a private school, and they did not really have a middle school cross country program so I just ran with the high school team. As middle school went on the shoes I felt I had to fill kept growing, the only way to fill these shoes was to run faster. It really was at this point that a hatred for running started inside of me. I liked to make my parents proud and I liked to please others, but I really did not like running for what it was.
I won most of my races in middle school and won the all city meet both years (still only racing 1.5 miles). With every good result I had, I also felt the bar of expectation raise. My sister was winning races left and right at this point, and was looking like the favorite for the state title. Outside of school I was know as Hadway's kid, but in school I was also know as Ashley's little brother. These were expectations I felt I had to fill.
Once I hit my freshman year of high school, I really did not like running. My coach would tell us to go run and I would go sit on the train bridge for 40 minutes of my 60 min run. I did like the attention I got at races, but besides that there was nothing I liked about running. I was known for going to races and taking them out blazing hard, and then fading to 3rd or 4th. I placed top ten at state my freshman year, and could not wait for the off season so I could sit around and not run. I ran the 3months each track and cross country season and that was it, nothing more than I had to.
My sophmore year saw expectations grow even larger, and with that my hatred for running was at an all time high. I ran, I had no idea what I liked about it, but I was out there doing it. My cross country season unfolded very well, I placed 2nd at most races behind my team mate Steve who ended up running on a full scholarship for a DI school after his senior year. Sate cross country ended up being a let down, and I did not perform well. I placed well behind people that I had beat handily all year. I think physically I had the ability to run faster, but mentally there was no motivation. It was at this point I needed a change. I told my parents I no longer wanted to go to a private school, and wanted to go to mead high school (a nearby public school). The only problem with this was that mead high school was over capacity, and being a student that was out of district there was no chance of me getting in. What did end up getting me into the school was my ability to run. Mead high school at that time had arguably the nations top cross country program. They were coached by Pat Tyson. He was roommates with Steve Prefontaine in college, and ran at a high level for the university of Oregon. In his time at mead he had 11+ state titles (9 of those being in a row), and had countless teams ranked #1 in the nation. Mead was also the main rival for my dads team. But my dad did not care. He wanted me to be happy and go to school where I wanted.
Running at Mead was a big change. We had practices twice a day. The first practice was at 5am before school year round, and the second was after school. Expectations were high, and I was breaking down hard physically and mentally from the running, and trying to fill these expectations. I think the only reason I did not quit before the end of the track season was the fact that I was penalized for being an out of district athlete. This penalty forced me to run JV for a year. The only thing running through my mind at this point was that I wanted to quit running. Every step I took running I hated. I really did not let my parents know this though. I still wanted to make them proud, and fill the expectations others had put on me. By this point most coaches in spokane knew I was Hadway's son and expected great things out of me. Running JV, the season was pretty uneventful. My times got much faster, and people were expecting great things of me come fall cross country. Once school ended running did not. Athletes on the team had to go to flathead running camp, and our team stayed for both sessions (2weeks) when all other schools only stayed for 1 session. This camp was where I hit my limit. I could not do it anymore. Looking back at it now there was nothing wrong with the camp. It actually really is a great camp, but if you don't like running, 3 runs a day is not your first choice for spending two weeks of summer break. I could not fake it anymore. I wanted to quit.
I returned from this camp and ran 1 week of summer practice, It was at this point I went to my parents and told them I wanted to quit. They supported my decision knowing that I was probably throwing away a scholarship to college down the road. They never tried to convince me to go back to running and I know my Dad got a lot of questions and heat from a lot of people as to why I was not running. My dad knew though that if I did not love running, it was a waste of time to make me do it. He wanted me to pursue something I had passion for. I got a job a couple months later as a bag boy at Safeway, and that ended my running career. I was a sophomore in high school.
From this point on I went from being the "fast kid", to being know as "a waste of talent". I avoided kids on the team and my coach. I really was done with running and did not want to listen to them try and get me back on the team. Looking back at all of this now, I can say that quitting running in high school was one of the best decisions I ever made. I would not be the person or athlete I am today If I would have kept running. Physically I had some ability, but mentally I was not tough and did not have my heart and mind engaged towards running.
My passion for triathlons today is something that I found and love. I don't do it to please anyone else or to fill the expectations of others. I truly love the sport for what it is. The other thing I i have watched and realized is that a lot of the kids I grew up running with, now hate the sport. Most that went to college and ran on scholarships did not run a step after college because they were so burnt out. So that is a quick write up of my experience in sports at a young age. Since I like using lists lately here are some of my thoughts on younger kids and competition.
- Kids need to be doing sports because they are fun- When kids are in elementary school don't focus on times, don't focus on winning, make sure the child is having fun. If a child does not love the sport because it is fun, they will never be successful in high school and beyond.
- Weather you realize it or not kids want to please you- I fell into this in elementary. Many people thought I loved running at a young age, but what I really loved was pleasing my parents. I wanted to make them proud, even if it meant doing something I hated.
- Kids realize the expectations put on them at a young age- I realized in 3rd grade the expectations people had of me, I worked hard not to let them down. Pressure is something that can start building at a very young age. The sooner it starts building, the sooner it can blow.
- There is plenty of time in life to be competitive- If I had to do it over again I would have saved all my competition for middle school/high school. I recently got the opportunity to talk to an Olympic distance running coach Joe Vigil. He said that physically we can go forever, but the mental aspect is the first thing to burn out. He refers to athletes that did not run in high school as "fresh" athletes. I am in no way saying don't compete in high school, but I find his point very interesting.
- Endurance sports can be hard on growing bodies (especially before 6th grade)- Keep it short/keep it fun. I am lucky in the fact that all the way up to middle school the farthest distance I ever raced was 1.5 miles. I have many friends that I ran with who were amazing athletes in elementary, but were hurt and broken down all of their high school careers.
- Let kids find what they are passionate about-If a child truly finds something that They are passionate about they will be unstoppable.
All of these ideas are based off of my experience as an athlete who was completely burnt out on sports before I even got half way through high school. They are also based off of many other athletes that I have grown up with. I would love to see more young adults in their 20's out competing in sports. I think this could be achieved by first exposing children to sports in a fun lite hearted environment at a young age, and second by keeping a balance throughout high school that does not leave athletes burnt out. Sorry about the length of this post, its a little on the long side.