All Peter could hear was the pounding of his heart and his rasping breath as he tried to ignore the pain he felt
at every step. So badly did he want to sit down and rest but fear of his physical education teacher kept him going,
and he was also trying so hard to prove himself to his fellow students.
This was the second time Peter had suffered the torment of the cross-country run. He was an unfit, slightly
tubby eleven year old, and was the only child in his class that had a dread of any sporting activities. He was
happiest with his nose stuck in a book, especially one about wildlife. He was passionate about animals and
his mother never knew what creature he might bring home next, wounded or lost and in need of some love and
care, willingly administered by Peter.
Yet, as this was the first year of his new school, Peter desperately wanted to fit in and make new friends, so
he endured what everyone else seemed to enjoy. The problem was that instead of making new friends, Peter
found he was the object of the other children’s ridicule, and the gentle, nature-loving boy could not understand
this form of cruelty, for that is what it was.
He looked a sorry sight, limping down the last 100metres of the course. His once white baggy shorts were
thickly spattered with mud, and there were dried blood streaks down one leg, gained after tripping over the
roots of a tree. His thighs and his face were mottled bright red, and there was evidence of tears having been
wiped from his face. He felt, and looked the picture of misery, and instead of the encouragement he needed to
keep going, there was silence from the few students that were watching. Peter could see Mr Jackson, his teacher at
the finishing post just shake his head as Peter stumbled to a painful stop. “I thought we might have had
to send out a search party this time,” he drolled, “now go and get cleaned up.” With that, he turned and walked
Peter felt utterly exhausted, and the total lack of concern showed by his teacher nearly reduced him to tears.
Instead Peter felt an anger rising and a feeling of intense hatred which was quite alien to him. He
clenched his fists scowling, and had the strongest urge to kick something. So preoccupied was he with this new
emotion that he didn’t see a girl approach, until a soft hand touched his shoulder. Still seething, Peter shrugged
off the hand, opening his mouth to muster what strength he had left and shout at her to leave him alone, when he
realized that he was looking at the prettiest face he’d ever seen. Not only that, she was smiling, not in the jeering way
he had come to expect, but a genuine caring smile. Concern showed in her eyes and voice as she said, “ Well done,
Peter, you made it. You may be the last in the class but you didn’t give up. You persevered to the end, and you
should be proud of yourself.”
All Peter’s anger drained out of him at her words and he just gaped at the vision before him, unable to speak or
even to think straight. The girl smiled again and gently said, “You’ll be a great man some day, you just need to
believe in yourself.” Peter thought maybe he was hallucinating with exhaustion, especially as the girl began to
look all fuzzy and bright. He squeezed his eyes shut, and when he looked up again the girl was gone.
Many years later, Peter stood proudly with a gold medal on his neck, singing the national anthem with
the spectators in the Olympic stadium. As the crowd cheered, the 1500 metres gold medalist thought back to the
moment when he had first became a winner, as a weak and hurting eleven year old. The words spoken by that girl,
whom he had never set eyes on again, effected a change in his attitude. He became a winner in his heart and from
then on his physical abilities grew with his determination, culminating in this great achievement.
Of much greater value than the gold medal, for Peter, was achieving his dream in becoming a physical
education teacher himself and giving to others what he had needed – encouragement and the ability to believe
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