People love a winner especially Americans, and sometimes our culture scorns the person who comes in second.
Take the super bowl for example; the Pittsburgh Steelers are number one; the losers are, well, the losers (that would be the Seattle Seahawks in case you forgot.).
In my view, that scorn is misplaced. The runner who comes in second by a nose, the student who works extra hard for that A-, these are the real winners in a competitive world. They’re the ones giving the guys at the top a run for their money, keeping them on their toes.
One day their perseverance will pay off, if not in ribbons, at least in character. To quote the Avis commercials, they “try harder,” and because they had to work extra hard for their accomplishments, they will be better prepared for life’s twist and turns, even if they never win.
Most of my best friends in elementary school were non athletic, but I was and a girl named Katie pushed me to get better. Kaitie Vader was smart, athletic, funny, talented, confident, and good-natured, never flaunting her abilities but always applying them.
Kaitie made school, sports, and friends look easy. Her very presence in my class pushed me to work extra hard just to keep up. Most of the time, I sat on the bench while she played starter. She inspired me to try harder.
Kaitie was always the first player chosen when captains picked teams-any teams. The sport didn’t matter. While I would watch from the swings thinking I wasn’t good enough to play a sport, but I still practiced hoping to one day be good enough to be on her team.
She was a natural basketball player. Her hands seemed to move with the ball with ease, never looking up or stopping to re access the floor. While, I, on the other hand slowly propelled down the court looking at the ball and then at my opponent, trying to access and not drop the ball.
In the seventh grade the volleyball coach matched us up as partners for peppering and boy, did it hurt every time she spiked it to me. Every day I was ecstatic just to have the honor to be on the same team as she. Every day I would get better until I got to start next to her in a game. Although she looked effortless playing, I stumbled to reach the ball. I tried harder and got to share the victory of winning that game.
As we went into high school I no longer played volleyball. As I thought that I would always be second best, fate would have Kaitie did not do track and I felt it was my job to be the leader now. I worked harder than ever before and made it to State, maybe not to compete but I had made it. I had succeeded in a place I didn’t know I could and it felt amazing.
And at the end of the year I was faced against the former senior state runner, in the same heat. The odds were she was to kick by behind. Guess what? I won, and just last year the Bambino-cursed Red Sox beat the indomitable Yankees. Go figure.
Right now I credit Kaitie for pushing me to go all out. I practiced longer and studied more diligently.
Every kid, in my view, could benefit from having a Kaitie Vader in their life, who makes it all look easy and who encourages a little more friendly competition.
Today, I’ve observed that parents and teachers seem afraid to let a kid loose. They worry it will damage a child’s fragile ego, deflating his self-worth. So they give out ribbons to everyone. There are no losers
If kids are rewarded just for trying why would he try hard if he knows he will get ribbon regardless of his effort?
Going for the blue ribbon in the face of defeat is the best way to test one’s true potential. I lost to Kaitie Vader and plenty others past and surely more in the future. But doing so didn’t crack my ego. Just the opposite. I was on occasion disappointed. But that’s life in the real world. Rather than making me quit, a loss made me work harder for it next time. It helped me recognize my strengths and weaknesses.
So hats off to you Red Sox, Kaitie Vader and all those number ones that pushes the number twos to succeed. This is to all those number twos out there, who are willing to rematch a kid for starter.
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