Holland Reynolds didn’t plan it this way. Exhausted and dehydrated, the cross country runner steadily lost herself. Her vision came and went. The experienced runner, staggering toward the finish line, couldn’t take it anymore. She face-planted about three yards from the tape, nearly blacking out. An official immediately came to her side, letting Reynolds know that if anyone helped her cross the finish line, she would be disqualified. In Reynolds competitive mind, she only had one option. Whatever it took, she was going to cross that finish line. Not for herself but for her coach.
Jim Tracy, watched in agony from the side, willing his junior captain to somehow manage to finish. Tracy was going through his own battle. Doctors had recently told him he was dying of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. He didn’t want his cross country runners to know at first, but the school thought it would be right to notify them before their season even began. Tracy, an avid runner himself, could no longer run, his muscles gradually losing function. The girls had dedicated their season to their beloved coach, and now the fate of the California State Championship all had come down to Reynolds and whether or not she would finish.
Much like Holland Reynolds, educators across the world are facing a difficult decision right now: how will the race to the end of the school year be completed? Two options are being dangled in front of you now. Option one is complete surrender. Throw in the towel early. Wave that white flag. Let the students do as they please, show lots of videos, and start counting down the days till summer. You’ll recognize this teacher smiling in the halls right now, saying things like, “Only three more Mondays!” They have already checked out. Their heart is gone. Some see the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy as their only option. But it is not!
Paul states, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9: 24). Paul entertains a much more fulfilling option here, a choice that will leave a lasting impression on your students. That choice is to finish strong, to buckle down and utilize intentional moments we are blessed with. Crack that whip if needed. Encourage fruitful discussion. Inject as many life lessons as you can. Praise successes, lovingly challenge those students who are already checking out, and spill every bit of your heart into your lessons. Simply put, the Christian teacher refuses to quit.
Wobbling on weary limbs, Holland Reynolds rose to her hands and knees. Her first movement forward was the hardest. She didn’t know if she had it in her. But somewhere deep inside a voice screamed out that quitting was not an option. Courageously, Reynolds began crawling forward, the finish line a mere few feet in front of her. Inches in front of her. Coach Jim Tracy could do nothing but will his last runner across the tape, and Reynolds did. She finished the race and was immediately rushed to the hospital to be treated for dehydration. It was there that her teammates met her letting Reynolds know that her finish had helped them win Jim Tracy’s 8th California State Championship.
What will you be doing these last few weeks to leave a legacy? I will throw out an idea that my wife actually gave me. Have each students’ name written down on a sheet of paper with plenty of space provided beneath each one. Have the students pass around this sheet of paper, writing positive adjectives or traits that they see in each kid. Once the list is complete, type it up, print it, laminate it, and present it as a gift to each student. Don’t even tell them what your purpose is. Let it be a surprise gift to them on the last day of school. I will never forget one year a former student brimming with the brightest smile you’ve ever seen, repeating over and over, “Which one of you thinks I’m a sweetheart?!?!”
The end of the school year is upon us. The race is not over. Don’t quit on your kids now. Be a Holland Reynolds, doing whatever it takes to cross the finish line. Be a Jim Tracy, still coaching your heart out when everything in your body tells you otherwise. Be a Paul, passionately spreading the gospel from prison with a full heart. Paul knew that his time on earth was coming to a close when he wrote to Timothy. In that letter, he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4: 7). Only a few weeks left to make a difference. Finish strong!
Jim Tracy (red jacket) with his California State Champion team (Holland Reynolds is next to Tracy)
(View the Holland Reynolds story “The Finish Line” below.)