This first quarter at Grace International School has been full, and was highlighted by a recent trip to Kanchanaburi, east of Bangkok, to give our varsity cross country team a competitive running experience!
I was honored to coach these 14 boys and girls through a short season that lead up to a race against 10 of the top international schools in Asia – 7 of each schools’ fastest boys and 7 of their fastest girls. We knew going in that the competition would be intense, the course would be tough, and, coming from a small school with a young team, we would be greatly challenged.
Among the few international schools in Chiang Mai our team has held high rankings in cross country for years, so the opportunity to face higher level teams was just the competition our students wanted and needed.
Additionally, this was a big deal to our students because it gave them an opportunity to travel with their teammates. It was a short flight to Bangkok and a 5-hour drive to Kanchanaburi.
Every one of our students gave everything they had and even surprised themselves. Instead of being nervous or intimidated by the other teams’ intense warm-ups, our students were calm and focused as we went through our warm-up, and prepared for the task at hand. I think they were more excited than anything! They had never seen a course like this, a race organized this well or competition this good.
Our top girl – a junior in only her second year of running – finished 7th out of 70+ female runners and only about 30 seconds behind 3rd place!
Our top boys finished 20 and 21 out of 70+ boys.
In recapping the race, my assistant coach worded it well: “I was impressed with our students’ efforts physically. I believe almost every athlete ran a personal best. This was our first time competing at this level, yet neither team [boys or girls] finished last and all of our students finished, which is an accomplishment considering some of the sickness and injury sustained this season. Our girls’ team finished 7th, and they are young and stand to improve substantially in this competition in future years. Two of our top five girls are only in grade seven, and all five of our scoring girls will be back next year. I do think there is plenty of room for improvement, but I think this kind of competition is what our students need to see that improvement. I can think of a number of runners on our team who will be preparing and competing at a whole new level next year based on what they have learned and experienced at this meet. The ISB [International School Bangkok] competition provided a level of competition in running that is much higher than the level available locally, and this allows for much greater growth.”
And as our female chaperone noted, “The Grace students now have a personal understanding of why they need to be dedicated to practice and the sport in general. Now they also have a better understanding and appreciation of the role and advice of their coaches. The opportunity to stretch themselves to new lengths as runners was inspiring to our Grace students. On the way home, they were talking about how they would share this experience with their Grace classmates to encourage them to participate in the after-school running program.”
Further, the race was only one part of the weekend trip. The post-race afternoon all the runners were split up into mixed-school teams to participate in a low-ropes challenge course. This was a truly great experience for them and very encouraging (and fun!) for us coaches to watch. We were all very impressed with the behavior of our Grace students.
As my assistant coach also said, “They were very responsible and made an impression on other coaches, who made a point to mention that they were impressed. I believe the students made a conscious effort to represent Christ well. I think they were a bit shocked by the behavior of some of their peers from other schools. In the future it would be great to spend some more time with them before the trip on how to engage peers from very different spiritual backgrounds.”
And here’s what our female chaperone had to say about these interactions with the other students: “It is critical for Grace students’ spiritual well-being to have many opportunities to see and participate with non-Christian peers so that when they graduate from Grace, the world will not be so foreign. At times they were disappointed with the behavior of the other students, and at times they realized that they were all very similar. During our evening reflection/devotion times, the students did talk about this.”
Our students were courteous, considerate, on-time, cheered each other on as well as cheered the other teams on, participated in all activities, and made new friends. From the moment we arrived at the airport until they dispersed when they arrived back in Chiang Mai, the Grace students did reflect and honor Christ with their behavior.
This trip was an incredible opportunity for our students. It challenged them in myriad ways and, hopefully, will inspire them and other students to aim high and train hard to reach their goals – not only physically but spiritually.