Cammie performed the best in the "boys" high jump. It is certainly not surprising that a child who has had to face so much adversity and heartache in her young life would "rise above" the competition. She is full of determination and every day of her life is driven by courage. She competed in the 800 yard dash. After the first 300 yards, the emotional weight of everything on her shoulders (the circumstances in her life, being forced to compete among the boys, and being different in ways that few understand) taxed her spirit. For the first time in months, I could see discouragement take hold and the quick strides of her long beautiful legs turned into weakened steps of despondency. She put her hands behind her head and began to walk, tears streaming down her cheeks. She was overwhelmed with emotional pain and her short steps slowed even more as she contemplated walking off the track. I stood helpless and breathless in the stand, my own heart sunk with sadness. My dad taught me many truths, but the one that stood out at the moment is the fact that a parent is only as happy as their most unhappy child.
I don't know why but at that moment I became angry... not at Cammie... just angry. I closed the video camera, threw it in my bag, then ran as fast as I could to the edge of the field away from the other parents, coaches, and spectators where she was rounding the bend. Like a parent demanding a child clean their room, stop fighting, do their homework, or finish their supper, I began to shout at her. I couldn't stand by and watch her give up. She had come too far. This race was much more than a "race" to her. It was an assertion of her identity... her individuality. I started to shout, "CAMMIE ELAINE!!!" (children always know parents "mean business" when they scream the first and middle name in unison). "CAMMIE ELAINE!!! YOU WILL FINISH THIS RACE!!! I DON'T CARE IF YOU WIN OR LOSE... BUT YOU WILL FINISH THIS RACE!!!" She was within feet by then and she shot me the "drop dead" look that all parents are familiar with, but I didn't stop. I continued to shout at her, encourage her, then - once again - DEMAND that she finish.
Humiliated and discouraged, she crossed the finish line... dead last. When she walked off the field I embraced her, wiped her tears, hugged her, and told her how proud I was.
I don't know why I reacted the way I did. I have thought about that day many times. I suppose I wanted Cammie to know that it didn't matter to me weather she won or lost... in my heart, all that mattered, is that she step off of that field with the same conviction that she carried when she stepped out there to compete. She has been a young pioneer in a battle that few have the strength to fight. I am proud of her conviction, faith, and determination to succeed and overcome the challenges in her life. I simply couldn't bare to watch her quit.
I have four children, three of whom have significant challenges in their lives and special needs... Tourette Syndrome, Autism, and - of course - Cammie. Each of them has had to face an exhausting mountain of adversity, and with each step, THEY have strengthened me. They remind me what life is about. My father used to say, "There are many different paths to the final destination, but once the journey is over... "HOW" we got there will NOT matter... it's what we do along the way that counts. There are no "winners" or "losers". ALWAYS find the strength to FINISH and NEVER FORGET to help others along the way.
My heart was full of love and I was humbled by her courage and strength when she took her place on the team, a team of boys, wearing french-braided pigtails tied up with yellow and white polka-dotted ribbon. I have never been more proud than I was that day when she stepped on that field. In my heart, she had won the competition before it began. She stood tall... first in courage, strength, determination, and conviction. She is truly the master of her fate... she is the CAPTAIN of HER SOUL, and I thank God every day because, despite all of my faults and shortcomings, he loved me enough to entrust her to my care.
|OUT of the night that covers me,|
|Black as the Pit from pole to pole,|
|I thank whatever gods may be|
|For my unconquerable soul.|
|In the fell clutch of circumstance||5|
|I have not winced nor cried aloud.|
|Under the bludgeonings of chance|
|My head is bloody, but unbowed.|
|Beyond this place of wrath and tears|
|Looms but the Horror of the shade,||10|
|And yet the menace of the years|
|Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.|
|It matters not how strait the gate,|
|How charged with punishments the scroll,|
|I am the master of my fate:||15|
|I am the captain of my soul.|
~William Ernest Henley