Jamie was the smallest nine-year-old in the Regional Junior Olympics, and it was kind of scary competing against larger boys. But Jamie was pretty good at push-ups and had won first place in his Cub Scout contest. He grinned broadly at Mom, Dad, and his sister Karen, who had come to cheer for him.
At the signal, Jamie pushed up and down with all his might. Soon the perspiration was rolling down his face, and his shoulders strained until he thought they would surely snap. Up and down, up and down, with the judge counting each push-up.
“Time!” shouted the judge, and Jamie collapsed on the grass.
“Fifty-two for Jamie Roberts,” announced the scorekeeper and everyone clapped. Jamie had done more push-ups in one minute than anyone else his age.
“I’m proud of you, son,” Dad said.
Jamie beamed. He had really done it, and it was fun!
Next came the 100-yard dash. I should really do well here, thought Jamie. I’m a pretty good runner. Brother Brown had challenged him, “We’re counting on you for a blue ribbon in the race, Jamie.”
“Run really fast, Jamie!” cried five-year-old Karen.
The boys were divided into six groups, and the winners would compete in the final races. Jamie raced three times, winning each race. He was hot but not really tired.
Every boy in the race was eager to win. Their faces looked strained and some were panting as they lined up, one foot on the chalk line, the other stretched out behind in a starting position. Jamie spaced himself between two taller boys, crouched low, and waited for the starting whistle. When it came, he was off down the field. He couldn’t ever remember running so fast. His head was back and he felt the wind in his face from his own speed. Every part of Jamie strained to go faster, faster, and he felt the two boys right behind him and heard their heavy breathing. He knew he was ahead and meant to stay there.
Then it happened! One foot slipped in a low spot on the field, just enough to throw Jamie off balance. His feet tangled together and before he could put out his arms, the ground seemed to rise up and hit him squarely in the chest. The next thing he knew he was gasping for breath and spitting dry, bitter dust from his mouth. He heard the crowd cheering for the winners and knew that the race was over and that he was lying in the dust twenty feet from the finish line.
He dragged himself off the field and hid his face in his hands, wishing he were someplace else.
An official put his hand on Jamie’s shoulder and said, “Run and get your card signed, Jamie. You can still get points for finishing if you hurry.”
Jamie stumbled numbly across the finish line and handed his card to the judge. How everyone must be laughing, he thought. How dumb I was to think I could win anything. He turned to Dad. “Let’s go home. I don’t want to be in any more contests.”
Dad put his arm around Jamie as they walked off the field. “Son, we can go now if that’s what you really want. I know you’re disappointed, but the real winners aren’t always those who cross the finish line first, they’re the ones who hang in there even when it’s tough.”
“But Dad, I hurt all over. I’m going to be sick.”
“Let’s sit down and rest with Mom and Karen while you think it over. Then if you still want to, we’ll go, OK?”
“I guess so,” Jamie answered. His knees stung where he had fallen on them, his stomach felt tight, and the words, “We’re counting on you for a blue ribbon,” kept repeating in his head. But I’ve failed, he thought. I can’t throw the softball now. I just can’t. Tears and dust stung his eyes. He wished that somehow he could disappear.
“Drink some lemonade, Jamie, you’ll feel better,” Mother said as she offered him a cup.
The cool liquid felt good on his dry throat. Mother handed him some napkins to wipe the dust from his face. What will Brother Brown think if I quit now? he wondered. I know I can’t bring home a blue ribbon, but I can still finish.
“I guess I’ll stay after all, Dad,” he mumbled. Then he crossed the field to where the softball throw was already in progress.
Jamie managed the softball throw but not well enough to be a winner. Still it was better than he had expected.
Only the standing long jump remained. Jamie was hot and unhappy. What does it matter? I’ve already lost, he thought.
Karen tugged at his shirt. “Jamie,” she cried, “look how far that boy jumped.” The boy had jumped six feet and the crowd cheered. “You can jump farther than that, Jamie. I’ve seen you do it.”
Jamie looked into Karen’s warm, trusting eyes, and tears started up in his own all over again. He knelt beside her. “Karen,” he said, “I don’t care if I win this contest or not. I don’t even care if people laugh at me. But if you think I’m a good jumper, I’ll jump as far as I can just for you, OK?”
“OK, Jamie. Do it! Do it!” Karen encouraged.
“Your turn.” Dad patted him on the back. “Go out there, Jamie, and good luck!”
Jamie ran out, feeling better now, hardly tired at all. Waiting for the jump, he placed his feet slightly apart, toes on the starting line. He bent over, like Brother Brown had taught the boys to do, and swung his arms. “Here I go,” he said to himself. One—his arms came up and back. Two—up farther now, giving him momentum. Three—Jamie hurled himself forward through the air.
He landed in a cloud of sawdust, his feet stinging. Fall forward, he reminded himself, as he dropped to his knees. He heard cheering, this time for him, and watched in amazement as the judges measured his jump.
“Six feet, eight inches. Longest jump of the day,” the judge announced. Jamie could hardly believe his eyes and ears.
Karen ran right out onto the field and hugged her big brother. “I knew you’d do it, Jamie, I knew it,” she said, beaming.
Jamie was excited about winning the jump, but he was even happier because he hadn’t disappointed Karen, who believed in him.
When the judges were ready to announce the winners, Jamie listened quietly as the ten-year-olds received their prizes. He knew he wouldn’t receive one because of the race, but he was glad about the long jump anyway. Then came the nine-year-olds. First and second places went to two boys from another town.
Finally, the announcer said, “We have a tie for third place. Paul Brady had it wrapped up, but because Jamie Roberts did so well in the long jump, he earned the same total score as Paul. Congratulations to both of you.”
Jamie’s dad pushed him to his feet. “Go on, son, that’s you.”
He didn’t know how he got to the judge’s stand, but when he did the judge hung a bronze medal around Jamie’s neck and shook his hand.
“Do you suppose Brother Brown will be disappointed that I didn’t win first place?” asked Jamie.
“I’m sure he’ll understand,” Mother answered, smiling. And Dad agreed.
Karen danced up and down. For once she was speechless with excitement.
Jamie flopped on the grass and pulled Karen down beside him. “Hey, squirt, how would you like to wear my medal?” he teased.