Ever since Hank, Jr. had taken up cross country running, people likened him to his father, Hank, the Great. Yes, it was true that J.R., as he preferred to be called, loved running and that he was as skilled as his father had been, but that’s where the likeness ended,. Hank had run the courses as if they were an enemy to be conquered and mastered, much like everything and everyone in his life that followed his days of track star glory, When J.R. ran, he sensed the caress of the wind on his face and relished the changing textures of the earth beneath his feet. His body gained a rhythm and tempo as he ran, so much so, he thought he could fly away, far away from the cruel taunts and displeasure of the cold and calculating, Hank the Great.
J. R. ‘s mother tempered the friction between father and son. Tender and loving, she had taught J.R. early to appreciate the joy and beauty of God’s world. She spent hours in the garden, nurturing promising seeds into glorious flowers. She spent time with J.R., encouraging him to be a man of resolute character.
"We please God most by showing love to others as He has shown it to us. We can enjoy the world He created without conforming to it." Those were the precepts that governed her life and J.R. witnessed them in practice, particularly in showing grace to Hank.. Nothing either J.R. or his mother ever did quite met Hank's demands for perfection. While she forgave Hank time and again, J.R. resented him.
The only thing J.R. did that came close to pleasing his father was to win at cross country. Hank had won so many individual awards, including the World Cross Country Championships; he expected the same of J.R. J.R. had balked at even trying out for the team, but his mother had encouraged him to do it for himself.
Surprised at how much he truly enjoyed running and competing, soon J.R. was adding his own ribbons and trophies to Hank’s tarnishing statuettes. His mother praised him for each victory; his father chided him to run faster.
When the day of the state championships arrive, J.R. stood a good chance of setting a new individual record as well as clinching the Cross Country championship for his high school. All he had to do was run the 5K in less than 16 minutes. It was possible he might even set a national record.
Hank took J.R. aside. "I'm counting on you to do this for me. You can make me famous again. You can prove that you're a man by breaking the record and that you're as good as Hank the Great. Show me you deserve to be called my son. Now, go out there and conquer the field. Be first in the chute!"
J.R. felt a numbing coldness in his heart at his father’s challenge. His mother took his face in her hands and tried to melt the iciness. "No matter who wins today, you will always be the winner in my eyes and in God's."
As the race began J.R. paced himself, staying with the pack, but keeping some reserve for the last meters. He began to float over the earth. The wind whispered words in his ears - "do this for me", "as good as Hank", "always the winner". Soon, he could see the chute. He heard no one behind him or near him, then he heard a new voice. Hank the Great was yelling - "15:55, son – you’re going to do it for me!"
The chute - the ropes that force the runners into a straight line to the tape - was before him. J.R. approached it, a broad grin on his face. Then, he did the unfathomable. He pulled up and stopped.
"What are you doing?," his father screamed. "Get in the chute!"
J.R. knew he had made the time, but he laughed. "I'm the winner, Hank. You're the loser."
At that moment, to everyone’s astonishment, the second place runner passed J.R., entered the chute and took first with a time of 16:30.
Hank was cursing now, throwing his stopwatch to the ground. When J.R. approached, the coach had to restrain Hank.
"Cool it, Hank. You're not the only one who lost. We lost and so did J.R. Several college scouts were here looking for recruits. J.R. chances were just wiped clean.”
So was the smile on J.R.’s face.
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