The fifth-year senior and cross country team captain stands ready at the podium, speech in hand. Thirty teammates, their parents and coaches fill the tiny room at his final end-of-season banquet. Standing 5 feet 7 inches tall with a 28-inch waist, he is hardly an imposing figure. Yet the weight of his words and his deeds far surpass his physical presence, a fact not lost on those who have watched him over time.
The speech he is about to give was essentially written for him; not by another man, but by circumstance. It is thus in his capacity as a messenger that he speaks, if only to offer guidance to those who will find themselves at the same podium 12, 24 or however many months hence.
And so, after settling behind the microphone and fielding a few good natured heckles, the room quiets, and he begins to speak.…
“The following quote is from Taoist book I stumbled on recently, called The Scholar Warrior, and I really wish I’d found it sooner. Because I think this quote captures what we’re trying to accomplish as a program; the building of complete human beings.
“‘Skill is the essence of the Scholar Warrior. Such a person strives to develop a wide variety of talents to a degree greater than even a specialist in a particular field. Poet and boxer. Doctor and swordsman. Musician and knight. The Scholar Warrior uses each part of his or her overall ability to keep the whole in balance…. Uncertainty of the future inspires no fear: Whatever happens, the Scholar Warrior has the confidence to face it.‘
“Now, in looking back, there are a lot of things I could say. Of course, one of the most important things I’ve learned here is that just because I could say something doesn’t mean that I should. Although anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that, while I know this, I don’t always remember. So for a while I toyed with the idea of simply doing a dramatic reading of the lyrics to the Sinatra song ‘My Way‘ in order to convey my general sentiments while avoiding upsetting anyone else’s. But that simply would not do; anyone interested can go listen to the song, and rather than let someone else speak for me, in true form, I’ll do the talking.
“Every person, when faced with the end of a journey, must come to terms with the path he has followed. Usually, this results an attempt to justify his actions as a means of assuring himself that he chose the correct route, that his efforts over the span of his quest were not in vain, that the juice was worth the squeeze.
“So when it was my turn, I did the requisite reflecting and began my justification. This of course involved inflating the importance and magnitude of my accomplishments by two means.
“One; selectively pruning information to create a context in which it appears I have been successful. For example, I’m the first Aggie harrier to earn Big West All Conference honors. Never mind that this is only our second year in the conference.
“The second route; moving the goal posts to again create a context in which it appears that I have been successful. For example, having broken 24:30 for 8K is pretty good. Never mind that my original goal was to break 24:00.
“But in a results-based paradigm, this sort of shifting is about all I could do; the results had to be successful, so the context had to change.
“Yet the deeper implications of this justification became clearer when I considered that I wasn’t just trying to justify my path, I was trying to justify myself. And I realize now that whenever we define ourselves by any competitive enterprise or invest our self-worth in any measurable quantity, race times, GPA, money, whatever, we will find ourselves running away from the setting sun, forever chasing our own shadows. And shadows always win, as anyone who’s run the levees knows.
“This mandates that instead of chasing shadows and allowing them to lead our lives, it is vitally important that we define our endeavors, and never allow them to define us. Put another way: I realized that running is something K.C. Cody chooses to do; K.C. Cody is not something running allows to happen.
“And yes, I just referred to myself in the third person.
“So I came to an impasse. In thinking about this season, moving goal posts and inflating accomplishments, I could not get around the feeling that the past 12 months were a disappointment. And yet, when I thought back on my entire career in its totality, I found that this season was also the culmination of something that was not at all disappointing. It was the culmination of something that’s been dearer to me than anyone, including myself, can probably ever fully know.
“And that is not at all a disappointment.
“For we must all at some point come to grips with the fact that we’re not the best; that depending on the metric, we’re not even good; that no matter how you look at it, every competitive endeavor leaves room for improvement and is in therefore in some regard a failure.
“This speaks to a central truth of life: If you live for end results, you’re dead.
“Perfection is the death of all that is good. We can never be satisfied with what we have or be happy with our accomplishments if we hold ourselves to standards that cannot be attained. So it is of course the journey, the doing of the thing, the living itself, that brings rewards which are known only to their possessor and which by their very nature cannot be taken away.
“And in the past five years, I’ve done a lot of living. Some of it less than savory, though most of it better than I deserved.
“Through it all, if I may be cliché for a moment, the only constant was change. The transient nature of this sport and of life in general is abundantly clear to those who make it to this podium, myself especially. I’ve had four head coaches in five years here. Counting high school, I’ve had eight head coaches in nine years; and make that 10 coaches in the past 11 years if you include club running. This has forced me to become extremely self-reliant, more so than I am inclined to be naturally. While uncomfortable at times, this is ultimately a positive; I’ve had to grow up faster on an athletic level, an academic level and a personal level.
“And on that personal level, I’ve seen graduating class after graduating class come up here, say their piece and subsequently fade from our lives leaving no evidence of their presence except the evidence we ourselves have chosen to keep alive. Nothing, on its own, is permanent, and all things pass. That means, of course, that this too shall pass. That I too, shall pass.
“And so I do. My name will persist in this program for, at maximum, the next four to five years. After that, I will be a ghost; I leave no plaque on the wall, broke no records, claimed no victories.
“Thus, I find myself among a large, diverse group of people; those who came, who saw but who did not conquer. And that’s OK. Because those who live for their accomplishments and accomplish everything they set out to achieve, Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, and perhaps even Michael Phelps and Lance Armstrong, will sooner or later find that they have nothing left to live for, and dwell forever in their pasts without giving the experiences of the present their proper dues.
“So I depart from here gingerly making my way towards an inner peace. A peace with the knowledge that although I did not accomplish all my goals, athletic, academic or personal, I nevertheless leave here an unexceptional example of an exceptional breed of human being.
“I leave here an Aggie.
“And for that I am forever grateful.“
K.C. CODY regrets that he will miss the Track and Field Banquet this year, so hopefully this will suffice for his speech. All transitioning athletes, or competitors of any sort, can commiserate at email@example.com.