Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Value of a Tattered Ribbon


Sweat gathered onto the tip of my nose, the surface tension soon giving way to dripping at a surprisingly fast pace. My hands dampened from sweat cascading down my arm as I positioned myself in my starting block under a hot Texas midday sun.

I listened intently for the track gun to set me loose, with the plan of running faster than ever and handing off the baton without mistake. My team depended on me. I could hear my family’s encouragement from the stands. This was a big moment.

My leg muscles responded in sync with the blast of the gun, and I was off. I had never run faster, and I soon transferred the baton with precision. Pressure released itself as I watched the race progress around the oval. Rushing back to the starting point, I celebrated as my friend crossed the line.

When our names were called over the loudspeakers, my teammates and I excitedly jumped up and received our beautiful ribbons.

After the meet ended and we were leaving, my coach called me over to say, “Great job today, Shaffer!” It was a special day!

I sat in the front seat of our green and white Volkswagen bus, which in retrospect was a nice foreshadowing of our eventual move to Azle.

My dad drove, and I watched my ribbon dance in the breeze as I held it outside of my open window. For just a moment, I lost focus, and my grip failed, with my ribbon independently gliding into oncoming traffic.

I quickly yelled to my father, and he found a safe spot to pull over. The traffic was intense, but I watched my dad carefully navigate around the cars to search for my lost ribbon. About 10 minutes later, he victoriously returned with my prize. My ribbon was ripped and had tire tread marks, but it was home.

A couple of weeks later my parents gave me a frame filled with two items: a photo of me at the track meet and the actual tire-tread-enhanced ribbon. The framed memory was soon mounted in a prominent location on a wall in my bedroom.

For context, this track meet was the last one of the year. I had enjoyed the experience primarily for the friendships, not so much the accomplishments.

In all candor, my track team at El Dorado Elementary School in San Antonio only had a few speedsters, and I was not one of them. It is also important to confess that the cherished pink ribbon I was awarded was for sixth place, and it was the first and only ribbon I won that season.

You may be asking yourself why I am relaying (pun noticed) this seemingly insignificant moment 50 years later in a newspaper column.

I share it because it has impacted and influenced me ever since. That season I had asked if I could “run” track, and my parents gladly were behind me. I would eventually find the sport where I could excel was football, but that would be a few years down the road. My parents never made me feel like I was the fastest elementary school runner because I was not, but they always made me feel loved by being present and cheering for me and my friends.

The tattered ribbon has reminded me to always try my hardest, never give up hope and celebrate the little victories in life. It impacted the way I was as a father and now a grandfather. I especially want to remember these things in 2024. I also want to notice special moments with my family and friends, perhaps framing a few victories I see in them along the way. Inspiration often starts with small wins!

Teddy Roosevelt, using the saying of his friend “Squire Bill” Widener, exhorted others to, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” You matter, and what you do matters. Thank you for your contribution to our community. I am gratefully reminded today that victories come in various forms, and all are worth celebrating.