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May 25

People Forget How Sports Builds Character

And wrestling is one of those kinds of sports.

I hope the IOC reconsiders this but I doubt they will. I didn’t wrestle, our high school didn’t have a team. But I ran cross-country my Senior year and really enjoyed that and the big mistake of my life was not keeping up that 5K running regimen. Trying to get that back now at 43 is extremely tough. I played baseball in high school as well and my memories of treasured teammates and helping one another work through things together was really my first ministry, especially because I rode the bench much and people would come to me with issues and problems. The really interesting thing is the diversity of our team and how race never, EVER entered into our relationships. We had Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Irish, Italians, Asians, Jews, Christians, we even had a Jordanian. We were a team and if you could play, you were one of us.

I was clearly the last guy on the bench. I got 12 at bats in a four YEAR career. I went 5 for 13. Stole 3 bases. My sophomore year on the JV team I went 4 for 6…all clean singles to center. The two outs I made was a strike out (I still say that ball was outside!) and a line out to Center that the CFer made an incredible diving catch on. While I was never a great player, I tried my best and got a lot better between my freshman and sophomore year. I went 2 for 6 in two years on the Varsity. They were both cheap infield singles but at least I pulled the ball and beat them out. I was an awkward teen who just loved the game and liked being on the team. The guys stuck up for me and I insist that I made a good deal of them better players because I busted my backside out there when I easily could have been doing other things.

Sports gave me much to consider and I cherish the memories and relied much on the discipline of being on teams to center me on the more important things in life. Faith, family and friends. Dad never missed a game, whether I played or not. One of the stars of the team, Tommy Vazquez who had a cup of coffee in the minors, always encouraged me and Carlos Hernandez rallied to my cause when I was always on the bubble of being cut. “Coach, ya can’t cut Hayes. He keeps us motivated and he’s the only one who can keep the damn scorebook anyway. For that reason alone…keep him around.”

On Cross country I was a novice and really did it just to get in shape. But it was challenging. I was never great at it. 23 minutes was about my usual time which is about average for runners. There were guys who’d finish it in 17 minutes and would not even be sweating by the time I finished! But I wasn’t trying to beat them. Just tried to improve my time each time out–which i did. My best time was 22:50 and I was so excited to break the 23 minute mark. I had this one teammate, Jayson who would always catch me about three quarters of the way into the race. There was a boathouse on the trail and somehow he’d always catch me there and pass me and would beat me by about 15 seconds. Our final race I was determined:

“Jay, today is my day. You are not going to see me today!”

Jay: “Yeah, OK. I’ll see ya at the boathouse!”

Me: (Angry) “You will not even see my back today!”

Jay: “We’ll see!”

I ran my PR that day and he never saw me once. I nearly caught beat a really good runner to the finish line from another school, but he poured it on once he heard my footsteps and crossed just in front of me and then slapped me on the back and said “Way to push me!”

Jay crossed a good 40 seconds behind me.

He came over and said “Man of your word. I didn’t see you once after the gun went off. You were moving today!”

I can remember my coach coming over to me and saying “Now THAT was running!”

I only wish I had done it all four years and really regret that I don’t do it anymore. I’m determined to get back to being a runner–at least on a small scale. I have weird knees now and heel spurs—so there are some limitations but I don’t think a 5K is out of the question.

Sports are not an escape. They are not a way to put life on hold and just distract ourselves long enough to not pay attention to what else is going on. What sports does for us is to push us into inspiration. Whether we’re watching or participating, sports enables us to think, just maybe I can overcome the odds in life as well.

And I think that’s what the IOC forgets each time they drop a sport.

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