By Jonathan P. LaBonte
Mayor of Auburn
It is hard to deny at times that we live in the “everybody gets a trophy” generation. We have all likely seen it: little Johnny or Jane comes in fourth place at an event—and here’s the trophy!
Little Johnny or Jane just showed up for the game—here’s a participation trophy! When we just celebrate someone showing up, are we really teaching them drive, competitive spirit or perseverance in the face of adversity?
Over this past weekend, I completed the Beach to Beacon road race in Cape Elizabeth. It’s a 10K (6.2 mile) run along the coast ending at Portland Head Light. Did I win? No. Did I finish in the top 10? Heck no. In fact, I fell just outside the top 2,000 runners. But for me, I won.
Just six months ago, I spent nearly every hour of the day flat on my back, unable to feel my right arm and in excruciating pain. Running six miles wasn’t on the “to do” list; finding sleep and simple mobility was.
As I crossed the finish line Saturday, I wasn’t thinking about who may have beat me or who I may have beat, I was celebrating what I had beat and who had helped me accomplish it.
There’s something unique about running as a competitive sport, and the more I watch it, the more I witness it as being about competition and community. Each runner has their own story for how they got to that race, and even their own struggles within the race to get up that hill or hold strong to the finish.
How many people have overcome weight or other health issues by turning to running? Watching them complete their first 5K, with friends and family and strangers cheering them on, you’d think they just won the Olympics, but really they’d just won a healthier, longer life.
The Beach to Beacon certainly isn’t your typical race, with over 6,000 runners and likely three times that number lining the entire race course cheering on complete strangers to the finish. But each of those 6,000 runners have some internal competition they are fighting, and winning that does trump the old participation trophy adage, even if you finish in 2,000th place.
Locally, we are very fortunate to have a growing number of 5K races, with the signature Greater LA Triple Crown Series among them, and even a half marathon, whose course circles Lake Auburn, that’s growing in popularity.
In fact, later this month the third and final leg, the LA Bridge Run, will loop its way around our downtown and riverfront as nearly a 1,000 runners seek to set their own personal records.
And in all of those events, it is still strangers pushing the man or woman next to them to stay strong, to hold to the finish. And it’s community members and business owners investing their time, talent and treasure to make sure these events and competitions are available here. If you want to see firsthand what I mean, come downtown on Sunday, August 28.
Take a lawn chair and sit on Canal Street. Grab a spot on the Lown Bridge. It’s sort of like going to a parade, only it moves a little bit faster.
And whether you know the person running by at any given moment or not, cheer them on. Tell them to push to the finish. Shout that they are almost there. I can assure you, it may sound foolish, but you won’t be the only one doing it. And it will feel anything but foolish as you join in on an event that is truly about community.
While I may feel a bit conflicted, given my disdain for the “participation trophy generation” being raised in America, when it comes to running, as I did with about 2,000 runners on Saturday, I think I will let it pass.