Part 3: Parenting a (very) young student athlete through adversity




Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

It was silent for a few moments. I sat and rubbed your back while you stared at the wall. I stood to leave your room.

“Dad?” you said.


“What time is my triathlon in the morning?” (you asked to race in the 12-15 year old age group at a local triathlon tomorrow despite still being 11) – from Part 2

We woke up early the next morning – 5am. You had your triathlon gear laid out beside your bed, just like I do before my races.

Max and Kate, you spent the night at Grammas and Grandfathers, so that  you wouldn’t have to wake up so early for Izzy’s race.

After the short drive to Nolensville we arrived at the race site at the Nolensville Recreation center. We checked you in for the race, got your bib number and timing chip and then helped you find a spot on the rack for your bike Izzy.

Your outlook had improved  – there was no talk about Cross Country or the disappointment from the day before. Instead you were excited to be racing in a triathlon again. The lighthearted, optimistic Izzy was back after a good night’s sleep. Now 11 years old, we’ve allowed you to race in one kids triathlon per year since you were 7 years old. Any more than that just felt like too much to us right now with everything else you do.


This year you asked if you could race up an age division so that you could do the longer distance (150 yard swim, 5 mile ride, 1.5 mile run) instead of the distance for 11 year olds (100 yards, 2 miles, .6 mile)..

You had a great race and smiled the whole way – as always. You raced your hardest and regained your confidence that had been challenged the day before by missing your goal at Cross Country time trial. (You were 5th of 10 12-15yr olds – even though you’re still 11).


You’re already asking to do the “grown up” race at Old Hickory Lake next summer. We think you’re ready.

I stayed true to my commitment not to talk to you about Cross Country unless you brought it up yourself last week. You didn’t, so there was no mention of the weeks impending time trial again on Friday. Instead I just helped you find your shoes or a running shirt each morning for practice.

We’re allowing you to have fun with it and make new friends on the team. Running and the comraderie it creates is enough. We know you have years to grow as a runner, just as you have as a swimmer. The truth is, we’re okay with however you perform as an athlete as long as you’re giving it your best effort. We’re okay if you choose not to run at all – it’s always been your decision, but we are committed to seeing you grow through the experience, just as you did through competitive gymnastics, continue to do through swimming, soccer, once a summer through triathlon, and now through running.

Last Friday I waited anxiously for 4pm though. That’s when Mommy picks you up from practice every day. I called right at 4.

“She hasn’t come out of the building yet,” answered Mommy. She knew the question already. “Wait…here she comes. Oh no, she doesn’t have a uniform in her hands. She must not have made it again. I’ll call you back.” And she hung up.

I waited. 

Two minutes later she called back. “She did it! She made it!” 

She put you on the phone, Izzy and I heard the excitement in your voice. 

“I did it, Daddy. I ran a 12:54 today. I get my uniform on Monday!”

cross country uni

That night we went for Milkshakes to celebrate. Still, I stayed committed to not talking much about cross country. Or at least, I didn’t ask much about it. You wanted to share every detail of the day’s time trial, so I listened and asked questions along the way – really only repeating what you told me, so that you would know I was really listening.

I was so proud of you, Izzy.

Yesterday you competed in your first meet as part of the “meet team”. You ran well and set a new personal record running 12:40.

first cross country meet

first cross country meet

The hard work you’re investing has brought you a long way from that first try out in the heat when you experienced the hardest part about sports: you don’t always win. Harder, your body doesn’t always respond the way you know it can.

Often, you can’t control whether you win or lose – only how you choose to compete and prepare.

Brushing yourself off and trying again is what makes the difference and over the last 3 weeks you’ve done that more than once. There’s a saying that goes:

Don’t focus on winning championships, focus on becoming a champion.

You show us time and again Izzy that example. 

I love you, Daddy