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We Actually Leapfrogged Twenty Miles Non-Stop

July 31, 2014

I was fairly active athletically in high school, participating in football, wrestling, and baseball for the better part of four years at good ol’ Delmar High School in Delmar, Delaware.   Mind you, I didn’t say I was a good athlete – I was average at best – but just that I liked to participate.  I was capable enough to be a starter on more than one team, which for a little school like ours (smallest public school in the state at the time) could be both a blessing and a curse.  We lost more than we won, but in every contest our guys would play to exhaustion;  numerous times after an event I would flop on the sidelines weary and spent.

There are very few times in my life, however,  when I was so beat up and bruised after an athletic event as when I decided to participate in leapfrogging.  It took me days to recover.

Yes, I said leapfrogging.

I recently came across a Salisbury, Maryland Daily Times article from 1975 that told of our six-man effort to raise money for our Junior-Senior Prom.  Boy, did this ever bring back memories!  Our junior class had labored unsuccessfully to raise money for the spring formal, and the timeline was drawing treacherously nearer.  We needed about imagetwo thousand dollars to pull this off, and we had only raised about three hundred bucks.

I had watched – with a smirk – the futile efforts in bake sales, candy orders and pledge attempts.  I  looked at Shawn in study hall and shook my head.  “They can’t get their act together,” I pompously remarked.  I had recently become a Believer, but I hadn’t really figured out this humility thing yet.  “They don’t know the first thing about making money,” I continued.

Mark leaned in and nodded.

“We’ll never raise enough money for the prom,” he said.

They’ll never raise enough money,” I exclaimed, “but we will.”  Dramatically, I leaned in close.  “I have an idea.”

“Yeah?” Shawn was interested.  He was always ready to get involved in any of my harebrained schemes.

“We’ll have a marathon,” I explained.  “You’ve seen those charities having walk-a-thons and stuff.  Well, that’s what we need to do.  We’ll get the radio stations and television stations to cover us.”

Mark shook his head.  “For a stupid walk-a-thon?”

“No,” I said, getting out piece of paper, “we’ll get just six of us.  And we’ll leapfrog.  Ten… no, twenty miles.  And we’ll take donations per mile.”

Shawn frowned.  “How do you know that people will donate?”

I laid down my pencil triumphantly.  “Because we’ll guarantee them our success.  If we don’t make it, we’ll give them the amount that they pledged.”

“What if we get five hundred bucks in pledges and we don’t make it?” asked Mark.  “We don’t have the money to pay them back.”

“Look, you’re in basketball, Shawn’s in football and I’m in wrestling,” I argued.  “We’ll get three other guys who are in sports – Larry, Dave, Ben, maybe – and we’ll do this.  What could go wrong?”

We planned it, announced it, and yes, the response was as good as we had hoped.  We raised nine hundred dollars in pledges in less than two days.

Oh, we got the notoriety I hoped for.  Television and radio stations alike were talking to us.  We were planning for the day after Thanksgiving at eight in the morning.  TV stations promised to show up at our makeshift quarter-mile track (our school was too poor to have a regular running track at the time).  We talked, we bragged, we posed.

But we never practiced.

We didn’t need to, right?  We were all athletes.  We were young.  We were full of energy.

And we were stupid.

The day after Thanksgiving arrived.  It was cloudy and bitterly cold on the Eastern Shore, bitingly raw.  While we sat and pulled on knee pads and multiple layers of gloves, the television crew pulled up to film the starting relay of our six-man team.

The reporter gave us the thumbs up and the cameras started.  We waved and started the leapfrogging.  Up, over the guy in front of you, drop.  Up, over the guy in front of you, drop.

“Ugh,” said Mark as he landed on the grass. “Why did we plan this for the day after Thanksgiving?”

“It’s a slow news day,” I said defensively.

“Slow it down, you’re going too fast,” said Shawn.

“Shut up, they might hear you,” said Dave, one of our football recruits.  “Man, my hand hurts already.”

“This is harder than I thought,” said Shawn. “I’m burping up the taste of turkey and mashed potatoes.”

“Shut up.”

You shut up.  All I said is this is hard.”

“Don’t you think we know that?” said Mark.  “I’m getting tired.  How far have we gone?”

I looked up for a quick overview. I was breathing hard myself.

I am not making this up.  We had only gone an eighth of a mile.

I heard Dave wheezing.  “I need a break.”

Larry mumbled.  “I want to quit.”

“Listen,” I hissed, panting.  “Unless you have nine hundred dollars to start handing back to pledge-makers, you better shut your mouth and keep leapfrogging.”

Shawn then made the statement which I remember to this day.  Looking back at the television crew, he muttered.

“We’re in big trouble.”

I do not know how we made it. It obviously took all day into the late afternoon.  We cried, argued, bled, sweated and wheezed through twenty stupid miles of stupid leapfrogging in order to raise nine hundred stupid dollars for a stupid prom.  I wore through both my knee pads and my jeans.  I ruined two pairs of gloves.  I was soaked with sweat. At the end, we didn’t even say good-bye to each other.  We just turned and headed home.  We felt terrible.

But, oh, the next day was so much worse.

You see, the extreme stress on your thighs and knees of completing the motion of squatting down fully, pushing up with your legs to vault your body over another human and catch yourself, using the same leg muscles to catch and slow yourself down as you descend back to the earth… well, that can take a toll after twenty miles and countless hours.

Especially if you haven’t practiced, for crying out loud.

The next morning, I could not get my legs to move in order to get out of bed.  I am telling you the absolute truth.  I could not get my legs to function.  The only way I could get out of bed was to literally roll out and slam bodily on the bedroom floor.  I was crying from the pain.  I rolled toward the steps.  My bedroom was in the attic of the third floor.

How could I go down the steps?  I couldn’t even get to my feet.

I bumped down three flights of steps on my sore behind.  Bump bump bump groan bump bump groan.

Oh, we collected the money all right, so you can say that we were successful.  We didn’t feel too victorious, though, as that next week we gingerly counted the money and slowly walked it to the school office, propelled mechanically by sore calf muscles. I was a now-ready student at Humility 101 in submitting to God’s teaching of James 4:15-16 about bragging as if you could control your future:

Instead of bragging, you ought to say “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance.  All such boasting is evil.  

I remember clearly as I sat on that couch, wincing – thank goodness for a long Thanksgiving vacation! –  taking phone calls from the other team members who cried and ranted about their pain, cursing me to high Heaven, that I slowly realized that proclamations and performances are two different things altogether.  My mouth would get me into trouble if I didn’t get serious about ceasing to burst forth with self-promoting chatter.  Perhaps I’d better complete a job and learn of honest toil rather than rash verbiage.   It’s one thing to talk up a reputation; it’s another thing to carry out a deed or challenge and let the performance speak for itself.   God was teaching this young Christian that the tongue needs to be controlled.  It was good for me to learn that the heart is the source of speech as well, and that it is good to learn humility.

I might add, it’s also good to remember to practice.

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2 Comments
  1. Shawn Brittingham permalink

    What a day! The weather was miserable but yet we prevailed. Probably why my knees hurt all the time. To all the doubters this is a true story. Thanks Brad

  2. True, too true, Shawn. I remember us in miserable weather, yelling at each other and wishing the whole thing would end. Man, that was a memorable experience.

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