The Day Faith & My 4th-Grade Track Meet Collided

The funny thing about faith is that as Christians, we never know when our faith will be tested.

One of the first times my faith was tested is more than 20 years ago. I call it my baby-faith test. In hindsight, it’s more of a cute, funny story, but at the time, it was a serious matter.

I was in the 4th grade. That year, I had tried out for the track team at CADET Junior High School. I made the cut. I was proud to be a CADET Comet. Coach Henry T. Hood was the track coach. A tall, heavy bearded, slender man, who sported one of the coolest walks I had ever seen. I often tried to mimic his walk at home. My mother would often tell me to “stop that.”

But it was just in me to want to act like coach Hood. Besides, after track practice, he would often drop my brother and I off at home. He drove a little white Nissan, standard shift, a truck that I often dreamed he would sell to me once I was old enough. I don’t know whatever happened to that truck, but if I see it somewhere today, I would still buy it. It was that clean!

Anyway, coach Hood had watched me run and decided that I was a distance runner, so he assigned the 400-meter dash as my race. He said a track meet was coming up in four weeks. He said if I placed in first or second, I would be able to advance to the regional meet in Grenada, Mississippi. But first, I had to get ready to race against some fast runners at Sam Coopwood Park in Holly Springs, Mississippi. We simply called Sam Coopwood Park, The Stadium.

But what coach Hood didn’t know at the time is that my father went to college on a track scholarship. He too ran distance, and I used to run with my father on the weekends and often during the summers I spent at my grandparent’s house in Hogansville, Georgia, near Atlanta. My father had told me that I was pretty good. He also showed me how to breathe whenever I got tired, so I could keep going when my body wanted to stop.

Having the track meet date in my head, I showed up to practice at CADET each day. Coach made me run my race three times each practice. My time improved each week, and my form was getting better as a result of the tips my father gave me during my extra practice with him for my upcoming race. Weeks went by and finally, the day came for my race.

But something weird happened that Saturday morning before my race. I stomach started to feel funny on the inside. I even started to tremble a bit as I drank my orange juice and ate the breakfast my mother prepared. Then it hit me: I was afraid.

As a minister, I know that one of the most frequently used commands in the Bible and through the voice of Jesus is, Don’t be afraid, fear not, or variations of it. But being in the 4th grade, I didn’t know that. I was so scared that I don’t think it would have mattered if I did. I had just gotten baptized a few months earlier, so I was still wet behind the ears as a Christian.

My dad saw that I was afraid and nervous. He reminded me of all the times that I had been practicing and preparing for my race. His words comforted me, but only for that moment. Once I arrived at Sam Coopwood Park, I was afraid all over again. I saw whom I had to race against. They were all tall, and muscular looking. I had no idea that 4th graders could have muscles that large. I was so skinny at the time that the string on my shorts would hardly keep my shorts up without me having to make adjustments.

After warming up and several races later, the announcer called for the boys 400-meter dash. That was my race. Still afraid, I looked at Coach Hood and said, I don’t know, coach. I just don’t know if I can do it.”

Coach Hood looked at me and said, Cole, get out there and run your race!

So I went. It was eight of us…and guess where I was placed? In the 8th lane, the hardest lane to run. As I knelt down to get set to run, I had a flashback on all of the times I ran with my father, someone I knew that no one on the track field was faster than.

My father had won medals, a lot of them. In fact, I used to hold them in my hand as if I had won them. As I refocused. I could hear my father’s voice telling me that now is my time to win my own medals, that everything I needed to win, I already had it within me. I just had to believe and have faith that I could do it. My father once told me that I could beat anybody who lined up against me. Remembering those words, I looked over at the seven other runners, and I decided that they were going to lose and that day was my day to win my race.

The gun sounded. I jetted out of the blocks. The seven other tall, muscular-looking boys were in front of me. Somehow they were so strong and fast that they ran past me although the 8th lane has a bit of a head start in the beginning. About halfway through the race, I noticed the seven other boys starting to slow a bit. I too was tired from trying to catch up, but then I remembered what my father told me: to breathe!

I took two deep breaths, and I got a second wind. I was hightailing it around the last 200 meters around the track. I caught the eye of one of the boys I was racing against. He looked surprised that I had run him down. By this time I was on the straightaway, the final 100 meters. I could hear Coach Hood yelling, “keep kicking, bring it home, bring it on home!

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mom standing up cheering me on. That was like an extra bold of lightning. At that moment, I emptied the tank on them, running faster and faster, just like my father; knees high, my arms and hands, all in perfect stride with one another, just as I had practiced. I was all by myself. I had passed everyone. I crossed the finish line and won first place! I looked back, and every single one of those boys I was afraid of in the beginning was still trying to finish their race, one of them actually quit and never crossed the finish line.

I was so happy. I beat those boys. Coach Hood was happy. My mother was happy, and of course, my father was happy. I later came to learn that those boys I ran against were not 4th graders. They were 6th and 7th graders, who had not submitted a birth certificate to prove their age. That’s why they were so much taller and muscular than I was.

That year, I went on to win first place at the regional race in Grenada, Mississippi. I advanced to the state track meet in Jackson, Mississippi. I won there as well. I had run so well that year that Coach Hood even put me on the 4X100 relay team the next season. I was the third leg. I stayed on the 4X100 relay team until my 8th-grade year. My relay team broke a state record with our time during my 8th-grade year. I continued to win my own medals in the 400-meter dash too.

So what does all of this have to do with faith?

Well, just as it was with my track meet, we all have our individual times of testing, some big, some small. The voice of my father helped to encourage me during my track meet. In the same way, the voice of our Heavenly Father, is there to encourage us when our faith is being tested. It is only through faith in Him that we’re able to get through the trials and tribulations that come into our lives.

I challenge you today; whatever God’s purpose is for your life, run your race. God has already equipped you with everything you need to win!