One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to watch your child struggle, knowing they must fight their way through the obstacle their facing so they can come out stronger on the other side. When Blake has his accident, I could walk beside him, but the battle was his to fight. I couldn’t do it for him, no matter how badly I wanted to.
Last fall, Blake joined the local archery club and has since set his cap on competing in the Olympics someday. It was smooth sailing at first—archery seemed to come naturally to him and he excelled effortlessly. The kid could shoot a bow for hours and not wear out. (Which is saying something, considering it’s 28 pounds of force he’s pulling against with each shot.)
Then he hit a wall. Scores started falling and no matter how much he practiced or tried, he couldn’t seem to improve. As his mom, I could encourage and cheer him on, but the fight was his to win.
Blake’s doctors would say that for him to be in archery at all after a brain injury like that is a medical miracle, to excel in archery—to the highest ranks of archers—is asking too much. But Blake has never been one to let the accident hold him back, and this was no exception. He refuses to let it be his excuse to settle.
The first weekend in January brought with it a practice tournament to prepare everyone for State. Blake, despite his efforts, got the lowest score there. He left incredibly discouraged and down on himself. I told him that everyone had those days, everyone had failures. It was what you did with them that mattered. I encouraged him to make the week leading up to the state competition his “training montage” so the victory at State would be even sweeter. All week long, the entire family would periodically hum the theme from Rocky at him, a joking reminder of what he was working for.
He worked hard, listening intently to everything the coach said and practicing every day. When I couldn’t take him to the range, he practiced outside in the bitter cold.
Friday, I took off work early so we could head to the tournament. I wanted to give the boys a night in a hotel and I didn’t want the impending snow to keep Blake from his tournament. Of course, nothing went as planned—from work emergencies that had me stopping at McDonald’s for Wi-Fi to put out proverbial fires, to bickering kids, to ending the night with a lapful of lemonade. We couldn’t sleep, and somebody (not us) set the alarm in our room for 5:21 am. The entire experience had me feeling pretty flustered. And then we got there, and the whole thing seemed so big that I was a nervous wreck, and I wasn’t even the one shooting. Per Blake, he was partly excited, partly terrified.
But then he started to shoot, and I could tell he was remembering and doing everything he worked on with his instructor. I couldn’t keep track of his score because I’d forgotten my binoculars, but I could tell he was doing well, that whatever the scores for the day, he’d be able to walk away with his head held high.
Most importantly, I could tell he was having fun and making friends. Blake thrives on social interaction, and he was completely in his element here, doing two of his favorite things: shooting his bow and making people smile.
When he told me his score, he’d scored 44 points higher than the “Please Lord, let him at least score this” amount I had in my head. As the awards ceremony began, I quickly realized that he’d scored well enough to at least place in his division, which was, of course, just about the last division to receive their awards. (Talk about suspense...)
And in true Rocky fashion, Blake’s training montage paid off with a gold medal! (There might have been tears from mom... it's a possibility.) As difficult as it was to watch Blake fight a battle I couldn't help with, but there is no greater feeling than watching your child succeed when they've worked so hard for something. Even better, watching him make good friends and develop into the kind of young men you can be proud of.
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.