As means nothing, but I need that daily

As soon as I open my eyes in the
morning I see it.  A blue and gold ribbon
hanging from my bedpost mocks me and I beam. 
I congratulate myself and start my day. 
You may think I’m congratulating myself on a first place win, but
ironically, I smile because I was a loser. 
This “thanks for trying” medal means more to me than my college degree
or any stellar evaluation I’ve received since. I could pretend it means nothing,
but I need that daily reminder of my imperfection.  I need that last place.

When I was in high school, we were
assigned various extracurricular activities. 
This was exciting as I thought I was a shoe in for music since I had
played the piano since childhood. 
Unfortunately, my teachers had something else in mind.  I was assigned the cross country track
team.  No one was more surprised than
me.  It had to be a mistake! I was never athletic.  In fact, I was awkward and clumsy.  I was the one no one wanted on their
team.  I was always chosen last for anything
physical. Give me music, give me books, not running!

I petitioned for a change of
activity, but was declined.  My teacher
told me the point to show me a different perspective.  He said we don’t grow unless we break out of
our comfort zone.  His motto was
perseverance is more important talent. 
At the time, I thought he was old and possibly a little out of touch.  Little did I know how instrumental that one
statement would become.  I had no idea
how many times over the years I would reflect on that conversation and say
thanks.

 After a few weeks, I almost gave up.  Running was hard.  I thought back to the words of my teacher.  I would not be the person would couldn’t make
it.  I would not be person who let
something beat me.  Many falls, cramps,
and shin splints later, I discovered he was right.  I had a passion for running.  I loved it! 
Running was my Zen, my meditation.  For me, every mile I ran was a mountain I had
climbed, an ocean I had crossed.

The semester culminated with a
series of races.  On the day of our final
race, I took my place, listened for the starting gun and ran.  I was in a zone!  After mile 2, I looked up and around and
didn’t see anyone.  I thought, “Wow, I
must be winning”.  When I finally
completed mile 8 and ran through the finish line, I was ecstatic!   I threw my hands up and did a victory dance
to the eager applause of only my parents and the coach.  Everyone had finished before me.  Everyone. 
Looking around, I noticed my team was already resting and having snacks.
Apparently they were done long before me and were waiting on me to give out
medals.

The ribbon for last place went to me.

As I walked over to where my team
had gathered, I could not help but smile and laugh.  I laughed from pure joy until my face hurt and
my stomach cramped.   I smiled because
despite my loss, I had finished something I never thought I could do.  Despite being last, life continued and I
could prepare for my next challenge.  I
realized that I could accept this failure because it meant that I was capable
of anything.  From that moment on, I
approached everything as an opportunity to prove that with hard work and
dedication, anything is possible.  Why
should I not laugh at the image of me raising my arms up in victory when I
finished dead last?  It was the proudest
moment of my life.  I could enjoy the run
and accept that there was always room for improvement.

So, the last place ribbon has
travelled with me from my teenage room to my now married room.   I share my inspiration when I need to.  It has hung in my mother’s room when she was
fighting cancer, my kids rooms when they were overwhelmed, and in my office
when I started a new job.  The last place
ribbon means more to me than any other achievement I’ve gained.  It means there is always room for improvement
and through determination we grow and learn.