[Note: 12 members of the Flagler Palm Coast High School cross-country team took part in the 28th annual Manhattan Invitational last weekend in The Bronx. Read the story here.]
By David Halliday
One recent day, the boys on the Flagler Palm Coast cross-country team were discussing a variety of topics including how to stay focused on their season and their goals. I mentioned to them that I used to have teams that would “dedicate” their own personal season to someone else—a relative, grandparent, mom, friend, whatever. This helps team members realize that although times may be difficult, there are always others who have had a bigger struggle. And when they feel like running is too tough or they want to slow down, stop, or quit, there are others out there who are fighting an even more difficult fight, and this small pain or challenge is minimal in the game of life—they can persevere.
So, one of the boys, Brad Walbert, wanted to dedicate his season to his grandfather who had passed. He decided to wear purple shoe laces—his grandfather’s favorite color—as a daily remembrance in his honor.
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The guys as a team wanted to do something in the same vein. They all had relatives and friends who had suffered from breast cancer. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they decided to all wear pink socks as a sign of solidarity, unity, awareness and remembrance. They asked me if they could do this at the Manhattan Invitational in NYC.
I was reluctant at first, as I did not want the boys to appear too flashy or showy, and did not want their actions to be misunderstood. I agreed under the condition that they must represent what those pink socks convey: someone who is a fighter. They agreed. All pitched in for some Nike socks, and Brad Walbert’s mom dyed them all pink prior to us traveling to New York City. They wore the socks for the race and could be seen from across the field. Many teams and coaches made brief comments or questions and remarked that this was pretty cool on the boys’ part.
At the end of the race, as our top-5 boys finished within 30 seconds of each other, they were approached by a runner from a local New York team, Lake George. His name was Richard. He asked the boys about their pink socks and their reasoning behind wearing them. When they told this runner that they were wearing them for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, he teared-up and thanked them for doing this. He explained that his mother currently has breast cancer and that he really appreciated their gesture and statement.
The boys, without batting an eye, replied that they had planned to wear these throughout the month, and that now they would wear them for his mom and her fight. He thanked them again and began to cry. He told our boys that he would get his high school to do the same. This caused our FPC boys to become choked up as well, that their actions had had such a significant effect on others.
I was not there when this happened: the boys relayed the story to me later, but it seemed to have a profound effect on them as they were shocked by Richard’s response and many other positive reactions.
I was speechless at their strength and ability to stand and promote awareness of something bigger than themselves, and to do all of this without any directives from me. I was quite proud of our boys as should the entire Flagler Palm Coast High School family.
Not bad for a bunch of 15, 16, 17 year old boys from little Palm Coast.
David M. Halliday is director of cross country and track & field at Flagler Palm Coast High School and the Executive Vice-President of the USA Track & Field Florida Association.