I remember an incident in junior high school that changed my outlook on life. I was a fat kid, going through the changes of leaving old friends behind. Because I was overweight, I had no social life at all, so to occupy my time I got involved in my classes. History was my favorite subject, followed by math. The class I disliked the most was — you guessed it — physical education. I looked ridiculous out there in shorts and a tank top. A lot of people thought so, too, and they let me know about it. I shied away even further so I couldn’t hear their remarks that hurt me.
One day in physical education, I suited up to go through our daily routine of running laps before we broke off into teams for the sport of the week. This week was softball and I was looking forward to it because baseball was the only sport I played. Being so big, I had lots of power. My arm had accurate aim, but I lacked a running game, so I guess it all evened out.
Emerging from the locker room, I spotted a group of guys from my class. They were all the super-jock type, the ones we all wanted to be — popular with everyone, especially girls. It’s just like how in every group there is always one who stands out as a leader; he’s usually the best at everything. Our leader was a muscular, black-haired boy named Joe. Unlike most jock leaders, Joe was modest instead of bragging all the time. And he made it a point never to criticize anyone — a suggestion here and there, but it was up to you to take it.
So the coach sent us down to the other field to run laps. As we got started, I knew I was destined to finish with the back of the pack as I usually did. As Joe passed me he smiled and said, “Come on, Ray, pick up those legs.” I don’t know what came over me, but I took his advice and started to run all-out. I trailed the jocks by a quarter of a lap all the way around on each lap. It felt good to be out of the back of the pack and actually ahead of someone.
Coming up to the last lap — breathing heavily, feet pounding on the ground, and a red face covered with sweat — I struggled to make it. The end of the lap came within sight and I felt so happy to accomplish what I did.
After finishing, I slowed my pace to a walk so I could catch my breath. Getting ready to go back to the top field, I saw my coach. Knowing what I had just done, I beamed a big, proud smile and said, “Hi.” The coach responded with, “What did you do, cut across the field?” I told him I didn’t, but my protest was in vain. He sent me to run another lap. I felt crushed. All I did...just to have it destroyed by some words. So I ran the lap with a heavy heart. This time I finished in the back of the pack.
We made our way up to the top field and listened to the coach pick captains for the softball teams. Joe turned out to be one of them, but I was so downhearted it didn’t matter. The captains started calling names for their teams. I knew I didn’t have to listen for my name because I was normally picked toward the last, like all the other back-of-the-packers. But to my astonishment and everyone else’s, I heard my name. I turned around to see if it was true and it was! Joe looked at me and said my name again. I was flabbergasted. I walked over to the team and the thought that I ran for nothing disappeared. Someone had noticed! It paid off!
After the teams were chosen, Joe asked what position I’d like to play. I said, “Second base,” and he replied, “You’ve got it.” That day I made quite a few good plays at second and went four-for-four, driving in a couple of runs. Every- one was amazed, especially my coach. After the game, I received many compliments.
From that day on, I ran the laps with everything I had. I watched what I was eating and I played harder, which resulted in weight loss. Before I knew it, I had shed the old image. I was nominated by people, especially girls. My social life took off!
It all changed because of this event. I tried for something, and someone helped me stay on the right track. But there was one thing I forgot to do, not realizing then what had been the turning point. I’m saying it now: Thank you, Joe, for the helping hand. May your life be filled with the happiness you put back into me after running those hard laps.