Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Father's Gift

Like so many young people today, she is heavier than she should be. I was a fat child, and I was the exception. I didn't have any fat friends at all. Now, we don't seem so hard to find. She may be 13 or 14. While I was doing an easy walk on the treadmill, rehabilitating my injured ankles, she came out of the group exercise room carrying a medicine ball, bouncing it on the floor every few steps. She smiled shyly at me as she passed, then proceeded to turn two recumbant bikes so they faced one another.

Her sister was younger, but bigger than she. The younger, dark haired sister was "fixing her jams" - getting the music in her MP3 player just right before she climbed up on the bike facing her brown haired workout partner.

Dad followed last. He is a mountain of a man, built like a power lifter and at least an inch or two taller than my 6-feet 4-inches. We have shared a workout station from time to time, and he is very strong. Also very kind and patient. I have counted him lifting 20 reps of the entire 200 lb stack on the cable pulldown, then trotting across the gym to help his wife with her dumbells. Every thing about him, from his powerful legs to his solid, broad face says strength and gentleness.

He gave the girls a quick, "OK, let's go." and they started cycling. Dad checked their leg extension to make sure that they didn't have their seats too far back. Then the girls started chucking the ball back and forth, pedaling and playing catch at the same time while Dad circled like a lion protecting cubs on a sunny afternoon. If one of the sisters slowed down, he would encourage them. If they got too rambunctious with the ball, he would settle them down with a quiet word. And once he chased down a toss that slipped through the older girls hands and rolled to the reception counter.

While the girls pedaled and laughed, his eyes moved from their faces to the consoles of their machines - using both to monitor their progress and condition. The younger daughter reached 1 mile first, and her workout was done. The game of catch was over, but she and her father waited patiently while her fading but determined sister completed her own ride, her dad softly coaching her to the end.

Those girls got a gift today. The gym is full of men and women who come to make themselves better or to get away from the stress of work and family for a while. This father had something much more important to do. He was helping his girls with love and patience, allowing them to be kids and to play while pressing them to do their best. When that girl was pedaling alone, after the game of catch was over, I could see in her face that she was not going to quit. And I could also see that her Dad was not going to walk away, no matter how long it took her to finish. Her father is teaching her to stick to her guns and keep her eyes on her goal. She was tired, but she was not distracted. Her face told me she was strong and quietly determined to do her best .

Just like her Dad.


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