“Me gonna beat you,” the little man called over his shoulder as he pumped his arms and legs down the track.
“Oh, you think so?” I jogged along a few feet behind him. Our family was alone on the skate track at the park. The evening sun was warm and clear slanting down at us, and the air was the perfect temperature for a cool family jog.
The boy looked back at me and then down at the ground beside him, then he pumped his legs faster. slap slap slap. His little shoes deliberately struck the ground with every tiny stride. Again, he looked to his right. “I’m gonna beat you!”
I suddenly realized what was happening. I had misunderstood the little man. He wasn’t talking to me at all. Somewhere near the last curve in the track, his competition had changed.
“Oh! Oh, Gideon, you’re doing it!” I called after him, “You’re out running your shadow.”
He looked down once more at the black shape beside him, and this time he was smiling wildly through puffs of air.
I glanced ahead at the finish line. It was still a good 100 yards away, but I saw an opportunity suddenly flash in my mind. There was a lesson to be learned here this day. “Don’t stop Gideon. Don’t stop okay. You can do this. Trust your daddy. You can outrun your shadow. Just keep running.” I tried to sound as sincere as possible.
His chin bobbed up and down and his little knees started moving even faster than before. I had to break into a run for a second in order to keep up with him.
His eyes drifted over his shoulder again and found his dark black nemesis was still keeping pace alongside him. I could tell by how he had first looked behind himself that he had expected to see it give up. Possibly he had thought his shadow would have already collapsed in exhaustion and he could finish the race early. He let out a frustrated puff of air. “He’s too fast!”
“No, Gideon. He’s not. He is not faster than you are. You can do this, boy. Just don’t stop running. Don’t stop.”
Again, he tilted his head forward and pushed himself even harder. On the pavement beside him, a black paper cut out of himself matched his movements, equally determined to win the race. The two of them were neck in dark shadowy neck.
As we came near to the last final yards, again the little boy looked down to see how close his shadow was. Again, his shadow was directly beside him. In frustration and exhaustion, he stumbled over his feet, but caught himself before he fell down.
“Be careful Gideon, you are almost there. Just a little bit more. Look, your sisters are at the finish line waiting for you. Just keep running. Run to your sisters, Gideon. Keep running.”
“Yes Daddy,” he panted. Running right past his mother that had walked out onto the track with open arms. He could not be stopped. His head was turned slightly to one side so he could watch his competition in the final moments of the race. The boy stepped. The shadow stepped. The boy filled his lungs with air. The shadow filled its lungs with air. The boy moved faster. The shadow moved faster.
And that’s when he saw it happen. As if in slow motion. As he approached the finish line, he rounded a gradual curve in the track, struggling to keep his footing. He pumped his arms and the brilliant light of the evening sun came to shine directly onto his already shining face. For the last 20 paces he was nothing more than a glowing blur. He looked over his shoulder, and his eyes suddenly grew wide. His shadow had lost its steam in the final stretch and was no longer beside him. The boy’s jaw fell open into a wide smile. His shadow had fallen back and was now directly behind him.
“Go! Go! Go! I told you, you could do it, Gideon! I told you!”
He swung his arms and legs and leapt over the finish line in triumph, his sisters gathering him up into their arms and his mother and I slowly walking over to congratulate him with hugs and high-fives.
The boy just smiled and looked hard into the face of each member of his family. He was now the boy that had raced his own shadow and won. What could the world possibly do to slow him down now?