I’m departing from the literary world today to write about two of the other aspects of my life to which I am most dedicated — education and fitness — and to share a most magnificent experience I had on Friday.
Along with fellow faculty members Nitai Deranja and Irene Schulman, I set up a 12-Hour Relay for the annual Ananda Joyathon, a fundraising event for the scholarship programs of Ananda College, where I teach, and its sister school, Living Wisdom School, which is K-12. The plan: to run as many miles around a one-mile loop as possible in 12 hours. We talked with the students and set what we felt was an appropriate goal, considering their fitness level and the fact the three faculty members would run some of the miles.
We set the goal at 80 miles. Just to be safe, I told prospective sponsors that if we had a great day, we would run 100 miles.
What little I knew. By the time we’d completed the relay last Friday night, our two teams (plus a few additional supporters) had logged an incomparable 260 miles. Of those 260 miles, one of the Living Wisdom School students, Siu Zen, ran 20 miles, while an Ananda College student, Samuel Pritchard, logged 19. After tossing and turning, wondering how many miles I’d have to run to substitute for others who couldn’t answer the call, I finished off with 17 miles — none of them substitute miles.
How did this happen? We didn’t load the relay teams with an abundance of competitive racers, although a few of us do
race. While some adults participated, the vast majority of the runners ranged from 7th grade to juniors in college. Furthermore, the afternoon weather wasn’t conducive to fast times — it was 85 in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The students prepared with some practice runs, though nothing excessive.
What happened amounted to everything I love about education when it is presented and delivered properly: We challenged the students to give us top effort, and they responded with 110%. That, in turn, magnetized faculty members and peers to add miles to their totals, which in turn brought more people to watch and cheer once they realized what was going on. We ran on the most beautiful mile loop I’ve ever used for a long fundraising relay — a country mile surrounded by trees, ponds, goat and chicken coops and wildlife, all of which is uplifting when you’re running laps for 12 hours.
But here’s what made me feel like I was lucky to be along for the ride: Out of those 260 miles, finishing runners received cheers and hoots on at least 250. Each student, faculty member and supporter who participated understood the energy and effort their teammate was putting out, and they let that person know it.
The students were not only motivated, but on fire with enthusiasm. I jokingly asked their teachers and a few parents if they’d been fed nuclear fuel for breakfast. It sure felt like it. As the “coach” for the day, I had a near impossible time persuading the student runners to rest between their assigned miles. They wanted to run more. While this is typically the case in the first few hours, I’ve never before been part of a long relay where students wanted to run extra miles after the 8-hour mark. Without exception, the runners wanted to give every ounce of effort they could, and run each mile as quickly as possible. They were focused, which I attribute in large part to the type of education they receive — one that emphasizes the entire person in mind, body and spirit, a system known as Education for Life that is celebrating its 40th anniversary in late June.
Consequently, they turned in a performance they will remember for the rest of their lives. I’ll bet there are still scorch marks on the course! For me, it was a benchmark, eye-opening moment in just how completely and without reservation kids and young adults will respond if we accentuate the positive when we challenge them, and honor and acknowledge their effort along the way. For them, it was a reminder of how excellence and superlative performances happen: by combining ability, enthusiasm and the desire to reach one rung beyond what is comfortable, to find out what is truly possible.
To Martha, Mark, Sam P, Sam B, Siu Zen, Rory, Polly, Jaya, Sophie, Peony, Micah, Parto, Natalia, Paean, Kaden, Jallah, Kahea, Kamala, Rachel, Bardia and Stefan, the faculty, and the others who came by to help them along … Bravo!