Last Friday I volunteered at Zoe and Parker’s school for the annual “Fun Run.” What’s supposed to make it fun is that instead of running laps, we create a giant obstacle course. What makes it fun for me… well, I’ll get to that in a minute. A few years ago, while looking for an alternative to gift wrap and cookie dough fundraisers, the PTA decided to try the fun run concept. Basically kids procure donations for participating, and the money raised goes to various PTA programs such as science day, the art docent program, etc.
The first year, we were all flying by the seat of our pants. I worked the balance beam portion of the course. I had a birds eye view of Hottie Dad and his obstacle. Someone had painstakingly blown up balloons, tied them to ribbons, and hung them upside down from the metal overhang of the baseball dugout. The idea was the kids would run through and punch the balloons out of their way like a boxing speedbag.
When the first group came through, the kindergarteners, they could barely reach the balloons, so most had to jump up to hit them. By the time the third graders came out, we knew we had a problem. The taller the kids got, the more they were getting clotheslined by the balloon strings as they went through. Inevitably, they had to cut all the balloons down and the older kids just ran through the strings.
One of the most impressive parts of that day was watching one of our students, who has cerebral palsy, and his para-educator “running” the course. He was in his wheelchair, with his ever-present giant grin on his face, while she was in heels. They did the course several times. When she went through my section, she pushed him alongside the balance beam, and she walked it in her heels.
We’ve been very fortunate that in spite of living in Washington State, all of our fun runs have been beautiful sunny fall days. This year was no exception, however, we had record-breaking rainfall just a few days before, so the fields were saturated. The field is also surrounded by very tall pine trees, so a lot of those areas at the edge don’t dry out easily.
I arrived just before the start of the event, and was assigned the agility ladders. My partner was a lovely woman with a strong British accent and a heavy lisp. I did a lot of head nodding. There were 4 rope ladders with yellow pvc pipe rungs laid out on the ground next to each other. The idea was that there would be 4 rows of kids coming through, and they would quickly step through each square.
As the first group came out, the music started playing (Kids Bop, of course) and the kids lined up over in the bus drop off lot. The MC got the kids excited and then set them loose to run the course. They ran up the hill, through the trees, down the hill, through the tires, over the hurdles, did an army crawl, jumped up and walked over a teeter totter, and then gained momentum as they headed for our challenge.
We soon discovered that there was a large section between the teeter totter and our obstacle that was very saturated with water. As these little 5 and 6 years olds hit that patch, their tiny legs would fly out from underneath them and they would land in glorious fashion on their bums in the mud. There were some kids who hopped up and kept going, while others crumbled into a pile of muddy tears.
We had probably 10 mishaps before we took an orange cone and plopped it into the middle of the muddy spot. The woman I was working with stood next to it and tried diverting the kids around, but in typical kid fashion, they would go around and then cut right back through the mud again. We tried to get them to slow down, but there were so many coming at us at once that inevitably someone would bite it again.
The mom walking around taking pictures of the event for the yearbook came by. I told her if she wanted great shots, she should stand at the end of our area and soon she’d have lots of action shots of kids falling in the mud. She looked at me, a little perturbed and said, “I don’t think their parents would like that very much.”
It was then that I started thinking there may be something wrong with me. I thought it was all pretty amusing. After all, none of the kids were really hurt.
Next up were the 2nd graders. Parker is in 2nd grade, so I was looking forward to seeing how he did. We attempted to maneuver the ladders so as to minimize the chances of more accidents. We were unsuccessful.
Parker made it through safely with his friend. All three times I saw him they were still together. He ran the whole course, unlike some of the kids.
One boy, who is Parker’s age, but about twice as tall and plays football and basketball, started walking after a couple laps and, winded, breathily said to me, “Need… 5…hour… energy.”
As each group got older, the competition got more intense. I saw boys cutting girls off, jumping in front of slower kids. I had some that tried to avoid actually doing the ladders at all by running between them. Because my kids have been in this school for so long, I know many of their names, and would call them out on it. I know I was supposed to be cheering them on, giving positive feedback, but no one likes a cheater.
I heckled some of my friends’ kids, but I tried to do it all in fun. One boy was walking a few laps in and I told him his younger brother had come through earlier and never stopped once. That kid started running again and didn’t quit for the duration.
By the time the fourth graders, Zoe’s group, were coming out, We had decided to take away two of the ladders and move them over again. The previous grades had pretty much decimated the grass where the ladders had been. We figured if the grass is gonna be messed up, probably should make it evenly destroyed.
The fourth graders made it to my area, and I began to see some of Zoe’s more competitive and athletic friends come through. And then I saw them come through a second time, with no sign of Zoe.
When her friend Rylie came through for her second time, I knew something weird was going on. Rylie hates running. She’s more of an artist, not a big fan of sports in general.
I asked Zoe’s friends if they knew where she was. I was starting to wonder if she had gone into the woods at the beginning of the course and just plopped herself down on a rock.
Someone came over and said, “Did you hear what happened to your daughter?”
I said, “No, I was wondering where she’s been.”
Turns out that, while still in the parking lot, Zoe had managed to get her feet tangled up with her teacher’s. He stumbled, and she bit it completely.
When he came through the course I said, “I hear you took out my daughter before the race even began.”
He stopped, chuckling, and said, “I felt so bad! I don’t know what happened, but she landed in a full plank in the parking lot. She hopped right up and was gonna keep going, but her knee was gushing blood, so I suggested I take her to the nurse’s office.”
I said, “That’s my daughter. She gets her gracefulness from me.”
When she finally came through, she was all bandaged up.
She was a trouper, though. She ran until time was up.
Later on I asked for her version of the story. She told me, “It was gushing blood. You could almost see the bone. My teacher passed out.” I’m sure that’s exactly how it happened.
I watched a quiet 5th girl in glasses come through at the beginning of their race neck-and-neck with a very athletic boy. They stayed close for the first three laps, and then he started falling behind. As she came through again, I told her she was winning. She smiled and kept going. After it was over, I said to the event organizer that there was a clear winner out of all those 5th graders, and it was a girl. My friend asked if it was a couple girls who were well-known for being athletic, and was surprised to hear it was a girl who in general flies under the radar. I walked over to her as she waited in line with her classmates, and loudly said for everyone to hear, “What’s your name?” She told me. I said, “Well, I just thought you should know, you were the definite winner of this whole thing. You really impressed me.” Her classmates started buzzing and surrounded her, asking her how many laps she had run. None of them knew she had won, and probably never would have. She’s not the type to brag.
At the end of the day, the PTA coffers were $28,000 fuller, no one had suffered major injuries (unless you count Zoë’s “visible bone”) the kids had fun, the rain stayed away and I had material for a new blog. I’d say a successful event all the way around.
The hijinks of the day constantly reminded me of Scooby Doo’s All Star Laff a Lympics. I’m including an episode for your viewing pleasure. While there are many good ones, I chose “Spain and the Himalayas” because Parker has a fascination with the Himalayas.