Author: my husband Glen Schuknecht.
As I spend time with my grandkids (they call me Opa) I often think back to memories of raising my own three. Seeing Erin, Troy and Alisa learn how to be courageous was particularly important to me and a couple “Troy” experiences come to mind.
I can still see Troy as a skinny five year old, standing at the end of the pool getting ready for his first ever swim race, the 40 yard freestyle. (actual length of this old pool) It must have seemed like 400 yards from his young perspective however. He looked like all the other little guys with his tiny little Speedo and huge goggles. The goggle strap was pulled tightly (to keep the goggles from falling off), distorting his face and forcing his ears to stick straight out. His skinny little legs were trembling from the cold Oregon air but likely from fear as well. The buzzer sounded and after a slight hesitation Troy jumped into the water. The racers were off. I was standing on the far edge of the pool with a towel in hand, ready to wrap around him and hug him with. I was excited (and proud) to see him finish his first ever official race of any kind. About 4 strokes into the race however, Troy stopped and grabbing the lane line he began to scream, “I’m so scared”. Like any good dad, I attempted to soothe his fears by shouting out encouraging words. Soon his “I’m so scared” increased in volume however. I envisioned most of the spectators glaring at the evil dad who had forced his tiny son to race. After one more attempt at encouraging him to finish, I directed Troy to the side of the pool, and the towel reserved for the finish line was snuggly wrapped around him there on the side, far short of the finish line. As a coach and rather competitive guy, I attempted to cover my disappointment with a grin.
Troy was scheduled to swim again later in the day – another length of the pool but this time the 40 yard backstroke. I tried to recall the motivational speeches I had heard from great coaches, from the movie Patton, from Churchill or Lincoln. What could I say to encourage him? Should we just call it quits and pull Troy from the next race? I had been the mean villain enough for one day, and my son had not been the great warrior I had imagined. Could I just disappear and let Ellen go poolside this time? Both Troy and I gathered our courage however and Troy swam a remarkable race…well he finished anyway. At the finish line I vigorously wrapped him in the towel and we celebrated.
The following summer, I decided to take Troy on a rather lengthy bike ride. His little legs spun at least four times for every one cycle of mine. We peddled away from home that warm summer day and got several miles out on a narrow country road when Troy grew tired and thirsty. Jumping off his bike, he stubbornly refused to go on. The only solution was to turn around and head back home. Troy however did not want to peddle in any direction and tried every possible way to convince me to carry him, pull him – anything to get out of riding his bike. Finally the realization dawned on him that he had no way out but to peddle back home with his own tired legs.
In today’s world, the easy solution would have been to pull out the cell phone and call for help but this was before the age of instant “cell phone solutions. We owned no cell phone. No one did. It was a tough ride home for Troy who whined most of the way back but we finally made it. That night Troy and I went out for ice cream to celebrate after the “victorious ride” was over. The bike ride in hindsight was a memory Troy took pride in. He pressed on through exhaustion and discomfort (and a bad attitude!) and finished a ride he did not think he could do.
As a public high school math teacher, motivating students to press through and do hard things well is one of the most important jobs I have. They need constant reminders of the need to grow courage and push through difficulties. Courage is not something a person just gets one day. Nor is it a trait we are born with. Instead we must practice it and cultivate it into our character. The students in my classes need constant reminders as to why they are being “tortured”. Once they get that no one is ever born with courage and that it is a learned skill, they seem more motivated to push themselves however. Movies and books that show examples of courageous acts are valuable tools, but true courage must be gained through experience.
Both success and failure teach courage. Troy learned courage in both failing to finish the first race and in getting back up and finishing the second one.
My definition of courage is “doing something you don’t want to do, the best you possibly can.” Students today think of courage as something great American heroes of old had when they made huge unselfish sacrifices that continue to benefit us today. They also need to see courage as a character trait they can choose to growth within themselves on a daily basis.
Parents, teachers, coaches and anyone who speaks into the lives of kids, must purposely teach and expect courage so that kids don’t inadvertently grow the other “C” word- COWARDICE. Courage is not learned in the absence of fear. In fact, kids learn courage when they face the difficulties found in such experiences as pain, discomfort, exhaustion, fear of failure, fear of rejection, stress, and even loneliness. Finally courageous acts must be celebrated.
Learning courage is not necessarily fun, but much pleasure is derived in the gaining of courage after the fact.