Thursday, March 31, 2011

                                   AND A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM
                                 How a pair of old shoes touched my soul.        
            In the movie Shawshank Redemption, an inmate made good his escape by wearing the warden’s shoes, which prompted actor Morgan Freeman to ask “How often do you really look at a man’s shoes?”  For me the answer was never, until a young girl in discarded sneakers changed my point of view forever.
            I encountered her in a cavernous gym with gleaming wood floors, fancy retractable seats, and a parking lot filled with SUV’s. That’s how church league basketball was played south of the freeway.
            Her team arrived in an old station wagon, a coach and six black players from north of the Interstate, close yet a world away. Their opponents would be my daughter and her grade school teammates with their expensive basketball shoes and uniforms. The team from the north side had neither.
            Instead of NBA signature models, her shoes were low cut plaids with two eye rings. We called them boat shoes. Perhaps for a prior owner they’d matched a new outfit at a spring barbeque, or graced the deck of a sailboat on a breezy summer cruise. Now they were old and faded, the bottoms worn smooth. During warm ups our girls’ quick cuts to the basket squeaked on the hard wood. With each step the boat shoe girl struggled to avoid sliding to the floor.
            It was impossible not to notice, and she did. Etched in my memory is the look on her face as the differences hit home, more shame than envy. As a dad, I knew she wanted only what all young girls want, to look like everyone else. Thanks to us it was the one thing she couldn’t do. Stranded at mid court, nowhere to hide.
            I considered how my daughter might have reacted had the shoe been on the other foot. My hope was that she’d have been as brave.
            The boat shoe girl played her heart out. Every move was more difficult by half. My heart broke as I watched her try to wipe the dust from the bottoms of her shoes each time down the court. I pulled for her even as my daughter and her south side friends poured in the points.
            In the end her team capitulated, out manned and exhausted.  At the buzzer her coach gathered them around for his usual words of consolation. Then they headed north.  As she walked by I wanted to apologize for the dose of reality, to somehow make it up to her. But, I lacked the courage.
            So now, should the young lady in the boat shoes somehow magically read this column, all that’s left to say to her is thank you. No matter where you go or what you do, for this dad you’ll always be the little girl with the tattered shoes. The one who taught me the real meaning of step at a time.

Malcolm D. Gibson
Copyright 2011
All Rights Reserved


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

                                       THE FRIEND WE NEVER MET
                                         A farewell to Sally Meyerhoff
            Sally Meyerhoff is dead. The 27 year old Olympic marathon qualifier went for a bike ride and never returned, hit by a pickup truck.
            For every Sally Meyerhoff there are thousands of runners like me at the back of the pack. Although her 2:30 was our 5:30, we were all in it together. We’d never met her, but we knew her well.
            With her passing came finish line photos, arms held high, the haunting image of a young champion struck down in her prime...the champion we all are in our imaginations. For a moment we were her and she us.
            She struggled through injuries, fast races and slow. She cried at her victories and her defeats. She compared running shoes with strangers, struggled with her new sports watch, and on occasion took too many Gu’s. She was one of us.
            So now she’s gone, the friend we never met. But, as long as runners gather at dawn, feel tears well up in Mile 26, or pass a bicycle down along the way we’ll remember our friend Sally Meyerhoff.
            The next time you’re struggling to finish a race, do it for Sally Meyerhoff.  It’s her race, too. The next time you pass a runner hobbling for home, pull her along. She is Sally Meyerhoff.  
            What she can’t do in life, we will do for her in spirit. Train hard. Stay focused. Do your very best. Because, you see, we have a race to run in London in 2012. And we will win it….. for our friend, Sally Meyerhoff.

Copyright 2011
All Rights Reserved