Last Saturday I thought my 10 year old was flashing gang signs from the starting blocks of the 9-10 50m breaststroke event. He had his arms crossed at the wrist with his right hand open and his left hand closed with his index finger pointing. I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing so I just gave him a thumbs up. I knew the two boys on either side of him had faster seed times, and I didn’t want him to feel intimidated.
He started the race well and all three boys were together through the first 25m. They turned together and were neck and neck until about 10m to go. Then Josh started to pull ahead ever so slightly, putting in a fierce finishing effort to clinch the win. He gave a little fist pump before shaking hands with his competitors.
Turns out that what I had thought was some sort of gang sign was actually him trying to tell me that both boys had 51 second seed times. He knew his seed time was 54. But what I had mistaken for intimidation was actually his determination to take them down.
At 10 years old, he knows how to do something that has taken me 4 times as long to figure out: how to outrace a faster racer. He knew he wasn’t the fastest swimmer there by a long shot. But he was prepared to work the hardest, because he really wanted that win. And he knew that if he could stay with the faster swimmers, his strong finish would help him.
I don’t know how, at 10, he knows how to pace a race perfectly and then outkick at the right moment. How he knows how to psych himself up just the right amount to not lose it all by going out too fast, or be too intimidated to think he can beat faster competitors. He is the consummate competitor. I am so proud. And when I stand on that start line of the elite field at Sunday’s Maryland Olympic Duathlon, I won’t let the speedy women around me intimidate me. I will flash my gang sign and give it my all.