I don’t run with the crowd.
When I got into secondary school, King’s College, at the age of 11, all of us wanted to each be the fastest runner. It’s in the nature of kids. Including me. But, to my disappointment, I was not a fast runner. Then my school father Emeka Udezue told me, “You look like a jumper. We have nobody to fill the second Triple Jump slot for juniors, because nobody wants to do or learn the Triple Jump. Anokwuru is our only jumper for now. Why don’t you fill the gap and become the second jumper? Every point counts.” I agreed, and learned the Triple Jump one day before interhouse sports and then competed in it. Anokwuru got the Gold and 4 points for Pane’s House. I came fourth and got 1 point for Pane’s House. That year Pane’s House won the Interhouse Sports Competition by just 1 point.
My school father said excitedly: “See what I told you!” And I internalized three valuable lessons in life.
1: Embrace what others avoid. The seemingly uninteresting. The difficult. The unsung.
2: Every point counts.
3: That which seems inconsequential and even like a failure at the start, might be what provides the complement that makes the difference in the end.
From then on, I concentrated on Triple Jump, and also added High Jump to it.
Five years later, in my last year in secondary school, the cycle closed. The scene was the National Interschool FedCol Games 1991. All the 45 Federal Government Colleges from all over Nigeria converged in Illorin for the competition. Again the stars were the fastest runners. The track events pulled the crowds. Every school wanted to produce the 100m champion! One got the impression that the Field events (jumping, throwing, etc) was not interesting to some sports teachers.
If there was any event even more unattractive to the students than Triple Jump, it was Discus. But this was exactly the event which Ekeinde Ohiwerei had practiced and mastered during our six years in King’s College. He wasn’t fast and he could not jump high, but he threw a mean Discus. And he threw his Discus and got the Gold for K.C.
Chukuka Chukuma was next. He too was uninterested in the sprints and had focused on what he could do well. He picked up his Javelin and speared a Silver medal for K.C.
Like Ekeinde, Chukuka too was not a crowd-runner.
Then I stepped up to my signature event, the Triple Jump. To my shock and surprise, all my six attempts were better than the second placed person. I got the Gold for K.C. – and my mind went back to my school-father Emeka Udezue and the day he told me to learn the Triple Jump, because I can jump and every point counts.
After that came the High Jump. I was up against a great jumper from Waffi, a dark wiry fellow called Toju. He had springs in his heels. We were the only two left in the end. When I missed, he missed. When I jumped the bar, he jumped the bar. On and on, back and forth. The officiators grew impatient, because they were waiting for the High Jump to finish in order to do the final event, the 4 x 400m relay and then end the games before sunset. So they started pressuring us to “Jump quickly! Jump quickly!” hoping one person would miss. I resisted the pressure, because… “every point counts”. But the pressure got to Toju. I took my time and scaled the last bar. He rushed.. and missed, and crashed the bar. That was one more Gold for K.C.
Then came the surprise of the day. The 4 x 400m relay event. It was the last. It was our chance and we threw everything at it. Dike Ugonna, Femi Sholesi, Sanusi Gambo and myself. We just ran like there was a devil after us – and we won the Silver medal. Our only sprint medal at the competition.
The real shock came when the final overall results were tallied. King’s College had won the overall first position. Everybody was baffled. They had only been calculating which schools won the sprint events. Most people’s attention had been on the sprint events. Very few people had taken cognisance of us as we were winning our “uninteresting” field events. And that’s how we climbed to the top. While 40 schools were busy fighting for 7 sprint events, we were calmly taking the road less travelled. And it led us home. We won by a single medal.
1: Embrace what others avoid.
2: Every point counts.
3: What seems unimportant at the start might be the deal-clincher in the end.
You don’t have to run with the crowd. But, if you do, may your fellow bandits be people who also have the foresight and the discipline to go their own path when necessary, even if it be a separate path.
And when you have friends or family members or partners who choose or are forced to take the road less travelled in life, show them the value in it, and encourage them to do it – and do it well. Because we are always a part of a greater endeavour, … and Every Point Counts.
– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.