Winning Last Place

March 18, 2021


10 year old Houghton skis down the hill after finishing her first ski race.

I poked my head around the girl in front of me. My stomach lurched, churning like I was about to throw up. The hill sloped downward, with long, blue and red gates every few feet that seemed to lurk upon the hill, hoping to trip someone. The turns, which had already been skied on, had icy patches that looked brown and dirty, ice and dirt that seemed to feel my fear and laugh at it; daring me to try, promising I would lose. This is a bad idea, I thought, heart pumping abnormally fast. How did Mom talk me into doing the second race too? I already used up all of my courage on the first race and look how that turned out!  I contemplated turning away, but by now it was too late, I was up. I took a deep breath, taking in all of the fresh, crisp, cold air. I won’t fail. I won’t quit. I can do this! I pushed off, and down the course I went, flying like a baby eagle, terrified of flight. Terror that slowly morphed into enjoyment. 

Earlier that day, the only thing on my mind was the finish line, as I neared the end of the first ski course. I slid around the last gate and came to a sudden, abrupt stop, spraying snow everywhere like a professional skier. That was a lot easier, and less scarier than I thought it would be. It was kinda even…fun. I looked at my time. 40:23 Wow! That’s fast! I thought, scanning the board, as quick as I possibly could, for the other kids’ times. The numbers slowly and painfully registered in my brain.  My stomach stung, like a million little paper cuts. My mouth was dry, and I couldn’t speak as I moved into the crowd where my mom was waiting. Honestly, it was a miracle I could move, with the sadness that weighed down on me. 

She stood there, looking up at the hill as my little sister (Lucy)  prepared to go. “Great job, honey!” Mom said, hugging me with the pride of a mother lion. 

“I lost. I came in last. Even kids Lucy’s age beat me. I lost to kids two years younger than me. Little 8 year olds. I’m slow and stupid and I failed. I want to go home and skip the next race,” I said, tears beginning to run down my face. 

“Oh, baby. You aren’t slow or stupid. I don’t care what your time is, I’m proud of you for trying. And hey,” she pulled away from me and bent down, so I was looking at her as her soft caring dememer turned harder and wiser, “everyone loses, but you didn’t fail, you only fail when you quit. Do you want to quit?”  I shook my head. I wasn’t a quitter! 

Mom started wiping tears off my face and moments later, Lucy and Dad, who was volunteering on the ski course, came down. Lucy had gotten second to last, beating me by two seconds and was now chatting my ear off, talking about how much fun she had, regardless of her loser time. But I was too busy to listen to her story, (which mostly bragged about beating me,) instead I was reassuring myself. I can do this! I can do this! I can do this! I thought over and over and over, as the four of us slowly meandered over to the next hill. 

That day, I made a choice to keep going, regardless of what my time was and now, as I stand on the brink of adolescence, I use my mom’s lesson, more than ever. I now don’t look at the sport times, I create my own definition of winning. I strive to do my best, and I now understand that that’s enough. And even though I lost every single race the whole ski season, I had fun and in my heart, I won. 

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