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Being a champion is not about winning race

I learned a life lesson at an unlikely moment this week while my daughter and I watched a swim meet at the local pool.

We watched all the elementary-aged kids warm up for their races, stretching on the sidelines and getting last-minute pep talks from their parents. Amid the pre-race action, I noticed a girl walking poolside who did not look like your average swimmer.

The girl, who must have been about 9 years old, had two stumps instead of legs and was blithely walking on her hands. Her arms were extremely muscular and she easily swung her lower body beneath her as she walked with her teammates.

I think I've seen too many Hollywood, feel-good movies about the underdog becoming the champion, because when I saw this young girl, my first thought was that she was going to be awesome. The happy-ending, fairy tale side of me just knew this girl was something special and that I would be awed by her swimming ability.

But I wasn't. That wasn't the lesson I learned that day.

As the girl got up on her starting board and gripped the edge with her fingers instead of her toes like the other swimmers, I was so nervous and excited to see what she could do.

She flung herself into the water and took off alongside her competition. She swam slowly, although with incredible strength. As the other swimmers finished their second and final lap, my underdog champion was still only turning the corner of her first lap.

All of the other swimmers were out of the pool and waiting patiently as she finished her race alone. Her teammates cheered her on as she finally finished the race, last and with an enormous smile on her face.

As I watched her get ready for her next race, I realized that I had my priorities all wrong. I wanted this girl to win to satisfy some romantic view of life, but what she showed me was that being a champion is not about winning.

That may sound a bit cliche, but what I learned was that even though this girl had no chance of winning, she still raced the race. It wasn't a close race; there was absolutely no way she could ever have won.

But she didn't race to win; she raced to swim.

It made me think of all the things in my life that I shy away from because I may not be the best at it, even though I may enjoy it. In the same way, I find myself passing on that attitude to my daughter. I encourage her to pursue activities that she excels at, while not pushing activities that she enjoys but is not particularly good at.

As I watched the girl swimming a race she could not win, I wanted to sing in the church choir even though I cannot sing on key or write poetry that will never be published. And I wanted to tell my daughter that life is about more than just winning or being the best; it's about doing what we love simply because we love it.

Even if we don't have a shot of ever winning a particular race, the real champions are the ones who learn to enjoy the race.

Erin Stewart's blog, Just4Mom, can be found Tuesdays and Thursdays at e-mail: