Friday, January 17, 2014

Racing in Reno: A Brief Story of Friendship, Track, and Sportsmanship

Today I'm passing on a little love from my hometown, Reno. I'm really excited to share this story with all of you because one of the young men involved, Drew Rippingham, is the son of my third grade teacher. Drew and the other boy, Jack, are currently students at my old high school, and the middle school track program mentioned is also something I was part of back in the day. So this story feels very personal to me, and I hope it makes you smile, too.

Last year, then-eighth graders Drew Rippingham and Jack Rovetti developed a strong friendship thanks to a shared love of track and field. Both boys participated in the sport at Swope Middle School in Reno, NV and competed in the same event.

The two boys didn't know each other before the beginning of track season, but at the first meet, Drew noticed that Jack, who has Down Syndrome, looked a little lost.

"At that first track meet, Jack was standing in a group of kids waiting for his race and didn't really know where to go,” said Diana Rovetti, Jack's mom. “This kid (Drew), on that day, said, 'Come race with me.' At every single meet after that, he ran next to Jack in the heats. He's a really good athlete. He could have been winning these races, but he ran beside Jack and encouraged him. He did this on his own."

Drew and Jack at a meet.
The boys finished every heat together. Drew, however, was not satisfied with Jack simply finishing the races; he wanted Jack to know the joy and excitement of crossing the finish line before anyone else. He wanted his friend to win.

When the last race of the season arrived, Drew talked to all of the other competitors in the race and told them about Jack. When he asked how they felt about helping him let Jack take the win, all the boys agreed.

Six boys lined up for the start of the 100 meter dash: four from other local middle schools, then Jack, then Drew. The gun sounded, and they all took off. Jack took the lead, and as he crossed the finish line, his fellow competitors circled around him and showered him with high fives, slaps on the back, and congratulations.

"It was very touching," said Jim Rippingham, Drew's father. "There were a lot of tears, to tell you the truth, once people in the stands kind of figured out what was happening."

Yes, the race was fixed, but that's not the point. A 14-year-old boy got a group of other 14-year-old boys to set aside their competitive nature and do something nice for another student without expecting to gain anything in return. Selfless is not typically a word used to describe middle school boys, but here is this group of young human beings being nice to another human being, bonding and growing over a shared interest. It's fantastic.

Even though nothing was expected in return, Drew and Jack's friendship and the story of their final race just earned Swope Middle School's track program a $1000 grant from Liberty Mutual Insurance and the Positive Coaching Alliance as one of the “Top 10 Responsible Sports Moments” of 2013. That's the power of friendship!