When I was a sixth grader at Garland Elementary School in northern Utah, I received word that a newspaper was sponsoring a pentathlon for grade school boys. I was almost 12, it was spring, and I was anxious to join all the other boys who had signed up to compete.
As you may know, penta comes from the Greek word meaning five. Thus, the pentathlon consisted of five track-and-field events that all of the boys in the state could compete in. The pentathlon was conducted throughout the grade schools across the state. The scores that each competitor attained in the various events were computed by applying a factor for age, height, and weight. They were then added together, and winners in various categories were selected. Winners received recognition and, among other things, an expense-paid trip to Salt Lake City, where they would spend a day as special guests of the newspaper.
The five events consisted of the high jump, broad jump, shot put, basketball free throw, and the 50-yard dash.
The pentathlon was the talk of my school. Most of the boys old enough were suited up for the event. At age 11, I was a 98-pound weakling with marginal coordination. But how I wanted to do well in that athletic contest. I suppose in that respect I was not much different than anyone else as I imagined the thrill that would accompany one to the winner’s circle. I knew I wasn’t what you would call a coach’s dream. But I had studied the rules carefully, and was hopeful the factors for height, weight, and age might give me a chance.
Well, I really got into it. I found a round rock that weighed within an ounce or two of the regulation five-pound shot. I spent considerable time in the evenings when the chores were done putting the shot around the backyard.
I also dug a pit that I used to practice my broad and high jumps. I nailed some old flooring boards together for a backboard, installed a hoop, and secured it to the end of the barn. While it was not fancy it provided the facility to practice my foul shots.
I felt I was ready when the big day finally came. We began with the shot put, and I did exceptionally well for my size. My practice shooting foul shots paid off, and I scored well in that event. The high jump didn’t go quite as well. My lack of coordination worked against me.
Then it was time for the 50-yard dash. We lined up by the starter and were off. It almost instantly became obvious that I would view the race from the rear of the pack. But how I tried. I gave it all the effort I had. As I passed where the coach was standing, I noticed him turn and say something, and then there was a burst of laughter from those who stood around him.
As we crossed the finish line, I was the fifth of five runners. I resigned myself to the fact there would be no trip to Salt Lake for me that year. But the worst was yet to come. As I approached the place where the coach had been standing, one of the more arrogant boys couldn’t wait to call out, “Hey, Hansen, the coach says you run like a duck.” And there was more laughter.
Well, of course, I laughed too. But many thoughts went through my mind. I was angry, hurt, and embarrassed. When I went to bed that night, it was still on my mind. When I awakened the next morning, those pointed words came back, “Hey, Hansen, the coach says you run like a duck.”
I struggled with that situation for quite some time. I admit I had thoughts of never getting on the athletic field again. But then I resolved that I would learn to run. And I was going to show the coach and my friends—but I suppose most of all myself—that I could do it.
From that moment forward, every time I had some distance to go, I ran. When coming from the fields at noon, I ran. When the grain bin on the harvester was full and I had to get the truck to empty it, I ran. When I went to the pasture to get the horses, I ran. As I had spare time while on army duty in Korea, I practiced my running. And after returning home, I kept it up.
Though I realized I had made some substantial progress, it was not until a particular stake fathers and sons outing that I had a chance to evaluate those 20-plus years of determination. We were at a campground in the Uinta Mountains in Utah for the Saturday morning games. All of the youth had run their races when the call came for “everyone over 21.” As I lined up with the dads and others, I noticed a young man in the group who had made a name for himself in high school in the 440-yard run. I knew he would be the challenge.
Again the starting gun sounded, but this time, instead of bringing up the rear, I was in front, where I remained as we crossed the finish line. Of course, the coach wasn’t there to see it. And neither were my grade school friends—particularly the arrogant little guy with the loud voice. But this I know: winning the pentathlon could not have resulted in the self-satisfaction I felt as I shared the first prize—a giant candy bar—with my two little sons that day.
What a lesson in life I gained from that experience. I learned humility, as I was humbled. I learned tolerance, as I successfully fought back the urge to slug the boy who made fun of the way I ran. I learned patience, as I found that some things take several years of determination to accomplish. And I experienced the sweet feeling that comes from successfully accomplishing a goal.
Perhaps you have some particular challenge in your life at this time. Whether you run like a duck, have trouble concentrating, struggle to control your temper, or have the need to develop charity and compassion—maybe you need to break a bad habit or raise your level of spirituality—whatever it is, there are very few things you cannot master if you but set your mind to it, seek Heavenly Father’s help, and then pay the price with determination and hard work.
Remember also that the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. Remember too that many times we learn more from a defeat or a disappointment than we gain from a success or a win.
Heavenly Father wants us to succeed, but Satan wants us to fail. The Lord tells us in the Doctrine and Covenants that he will provide a pattern for us. “And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations” (D&C 52:14). That pattern is the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. By keeping the commandments, studying the scriptures, and listening to the prophets, we have the benefit of these great resources.
Too often I sense we fail to draw on spiritual strengths and resources that are available for the asking, provided we are doing our part and living in such a way to be worthy of the blessings that are available to us.
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Life gives to all the choice. You can satisfy yourself with mediocrity if you wish. You can be common, ordinary, dull, colorless; or you can channel your life so that it will be clean, vibrant, progressive, useful, colorful, rich. You can soil your record, defile your soul, trample underfoot virtue, honor, and goodness, and thus forfeit an exaltation in the kingdom of God. Or you can be righteous, commanding the respect and admiration of your associates in all walks of life, and enjoying the love of the Lord. Your destiny is in your hands and your all-important decisions are your own to make” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 235).
May you steer a steady course as you go through life. Strive to live a little better each day, keeping the commandments, loving the Lord, and loving your neighbor. As you do, you will not only store up treasure in heaven, but you will realize a special peace, now, in this life, a “peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philip. 4:7).