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A Race to Remember

by Khevin Barnes

Inspiration image

Running is one of cancer survivor Khevin Barnes’ greatest joys.

When I was 12 years old, my family lived in a quiet neighborhood in Riverside, CA. I wasn’t very good at your typical school sports like baseball and football, but I was good at running. And I loved it. I loved it so much that it became one of my life’s greatest joys.

Back then, I’d organize regular weekend races with my friend Dennis Potter, who lived down the street from me. We didn’t hang out together often, but we met almost every weekend for our race around the neighborhood. The two-mile course took us along the streets around my house, and the finish line was in a vacant lot right next to old Mr. Stringfellow’s expansive yard.

Something of note about this little competition is that I always won. Always. Dennis would huff and holler, trying his hardest to beat me, but in the end I always, without exception, won the race. In the last 50 yards, without fail, I would surge ahead with great confidence to victory. Dennis, ever frustrated by his string of losses, would shake his head and mutter under his breath that he’d “get me next time.”

Our friendly competition went on for many months, until one day when my father announced that our family was moving to Newport Beach. I would be saying goodbye to my school, my friends, and my weekend race against Dennis Potter.

Dennis and I met one last time be­fore I moved. Our final race went as expected, with me leading the way. But as we rounded the last corner, with about 100 yards to go, a spontaneous and startling thought entered my mind and shook me from head to toe. With the finish line in my sights, the victory dance that had already begun in my mind was shoved aside and replaced with an image of Dennis Potter win­ning the race, a thought that until that very instant seemed impossible. I always won. In order for him to finish first, I would have to throw the race. That would be crazy, right? Then I wondered, what would hap­pen if I let him win – just this once? I knew of course that he would gloat and puff up with pride, just as I had for so many months. I also knew I was the faster runner – no doubt about it – and winning this race would further prove that point. But what if there was something even more important to be gained from not winning?

These thoughts raced through my brain as fast as my footsteps were land­ing on the hot pavement. I had only seconds to process this crazy idea, but in those few seconds, I experienced a feeling that was even more exhilarating and satisfying than any I ever got from winning. I was, perhaps for the first time in my young life, feeling a touch of compassion for another human being.

With the finish line in view, I sud­denly pulled up with one leg, pretending to lose my balance for a moment. I cursed out loud and kicked up a little puff of dust as Dennis, savoring the sweet taste of victory, shot by me like a conquering gladiator and crossed the finish line with outstretched arms.

“I did it! Oh my God, I did it!” he shouted. I pretended to be disappointed in myself but congratulated him on his well-deserved win. To my surprise, Dennis didn’t celebrate his victory alone. Instead, he ran over to me, grabbed my shoulders, and pulled me close in a sweaty embrace. I can still see the pride on his face and the excitement in his eyes as we hopped up and down, sharing in his dance of glory.

Now, 64 years old and battling breast cancer, I reflect on the many gifts I’ve received in my life. Though the memory of running with Dennis has faded, the feeling I got from watching and join­ing him as he celebrated his great achievement is just as strong today as it was then.

I don’t think we have one-sided lessons in life. Just as a broken bone heals stronger at the point of fracture, every defeat allows us to grow. I be­lieve that each time my cancer knocks me back a few steps, the reverence that I have for life and its endless lessons grows. And I know now that on that race day so many years ago, I needed to lose just as much as Dennis Potter needed to win.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Khevin Barnes is a male breast cancer survivor living in Vail, AZ.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2015.