She stands a few feet from them, close to her teammates but not a part of the group. She is getting ready to run. This is the last cross-country meet of the year. As the rest of the girls line up, she is pushed to the back of the line. She doesn’t get upset; this is where she always starts. This is the position she always gets pushed back to, not only in races, but also in life. This is what happens when you are Autistic.
The starter gun fires and they are off. She is quickly left behind, not last but close. What are her thoughts I wonder. Does she even realize she is far behind? Does she care? I do. I care. Sometimes I want her to win so desperately that it is almost a physical hurt. I want her to win to show them, the ones who push her to the back of life. I want her to win to show them she has worth, that she is more than someone to thrust aside without thought.
The races are longer this year, a mile more. Now she must run 3 miles. She practices every morning at 6. I know that the coaches wonder why some days she even shows up. It’s not that she complains, it’s that she often runs so slow it appears she is walking. I frequently wonder why she does it. But get up a 5:30 she does and after some grumbling about being tired she is on her way out the door. When I ask her do you want to quit, she always gives me the same response – No.
As the race continues she runs out of my sight. This always makes me a little nervous because she can get lost easily. I am calmed by the fact that a golf cart follows the last girls till they finish the race. My prerace ritual is to tell her to follow the girls in front of her and try to pass them if she can. I remind her that this day is not about winning, but doing your best. To run as fast as YOU can. And then much to my shame, I tell her try not to be last, as if her running in itself isn’t a miracle.
For Emma, finishing is the victory and most people don’t even know it. Imagine this if you will for a moment, you are running a race and not quite sure which way to go. You watch as those girls you were told to follow get farther and farther from you. You hear in the distance people cheering at the finish line but when you get there, because you ran slowly, everybody has left and the only person cheering for you is Mom. And because your Mom told you to, you don’t come in last, you beat one girl.
As she runs across the finish line, I wish I didn’t have the thought that I wish she did better. But I do. I quickly push that thought aside remembering the victory is crossing the line.
I wish people could see what I see when she runs. Sure it’s wonderful to win and it takes hard work and courage to get there. I think it’s easier to run when you win. Think about this, you live life on the outside, part of a team, accepted but not included. You finish most races last. And yet you still run. Why do you do this? Because you love to run and it doesn’t matter if everyone says you are not fast enough or good enough. You know you are.
Now, my Emma will never be famous for running, but in her own way she is reaching her potential, pushing her self farther (3 miles this year) everyday. She wants to become a great runner. She tells me this all the time. She doesn’t realize she already is.