This Medal Should Be Yours

Posted: May 30, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Outside the stadium before the start of the Solider Field 10 Mile race.

Outside the stadium before the start of the Solider Field 10 Mile race.

On Saturday, I ran the Soldier Field 10 Mile race. It was an appropriately timed event: Memorial Day weekend at a stadium that is dedicated to the men and women of the Armed Services.

The route began outside the stadium, went south along Lake Shore Drive, and then led runners back to the finish line inside Soldier Field on the 50 yard line. Running onto the field was one of the primary reasons I signed up, and doing so was even cooler than I imagined.

The finish line inside Solder Field.

The finish line inside Solder Field.

Then, after the race, a different moment that was intended to be special actually left me feeling quite different.

Runners filtered back into the stadium and got treated to the typical post-race amenities: water, Gatorade, and a souvenir bag filled with snacks. Another post-race reward at many races is the finisher’s medal. It is essentially a participation trophy as everyone who crosses the finish line gets one, but I like this extra touch to commemorate the accomplishment of finishing the race.

I followed the stream of people while holding my phone in one hand (I use the MapMyRun+ app to pace myself) and a bottle of water in the other. A logjam of people stopped where race volunteers were putting the medals on the runners. Another volunteer then began directing people to another spot for the medals; I went that way.

Instead of volunteers, there was a line of service members in their uniforms putting the medals on runners.

At this moment, I had one of those internal debates that seemed to last far longer than the few seconds of real time it actually took me to walk up to the serviceman on the end of the line who couldn’t have been more than 21-years-old.

The finisher medal.

The finisher’s medal.

My internal debate led me to a conclusion that apparently differed from many runners. Days after the race, feedback online from other runners was overwhelmingly positive about having the service members distributing medals. People said it was cool, that it was an honor.

I felt ashamed.

Here I am: an overweight, sweaty English teacher whose big accomplishment that day was running some miles.

Here he is: a young person voluntarily serving our country.

I wanted to run back to the other line and get my medal from one of the volunteers. This kid shouldn’t be putting a medal on me; I should be putting one on him. He already caught sight of me approaching, though. I wanted to ask to be handed the medal rather than have it placed on me like I did something special or important, but my hands were full, and before my internal debate fully concluded, he was already putting the medal over my head.

All I could say to him was, “Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate it.”

Yes, I was thanking him for the medal and the gesture, but the sentiment carried a different level of meaning that belongs to him and all of our service members.

  1. Jane Ungari says:

    Awesome reflection. Congratulations. Well done.

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