The Lifelong Lessons I learned on my High School Relay Team

There is a local Ganda proverb,loosely translated it says: anyone who never knew you in your vibrant youth has no idea of your capabilities. I could compare it to the English saying: I used to wear Stilettos.
I for one used to run like a hare. That is how I found myself in my High school 4 by 110 yards relay team from the age of 12 until I celebrated my 18th birthday. I also competed in the 220 yards race and the Long Jump. By then I was of medium weight and height and as confident as a lioness in the Savanna!
For six consecutive years, our relay team dominated the annual National School Athletic Championships, making us proud and famous. I always took the first position, Alice took the second, Esther took the third while Catherine took the fourth position and was our anchor. We entered the race to compete and win. To get there, we invested time, energy and efforts. We loved it and gave it our all.

We prepared for these Athletic championships for weeks. The late Polycap Kakooza , a parent of the school, and a member of the National Council For Sports volunteered to coach us. Three times a week, we would be at the well- maintained grass sports field with him at 6:00AM to the dot. Many times we would be shivering in the cold but once the rigorous warm up exercises started, we would be smiling. Barefooted and donning our yellow sports tunics we would ran round the field, practice how to hand over batons and how to keep in our lanes.

Time over time, he instilled in us what he called the three keys to success:
• that the race required speed, endurance and great depth of talent on the team.
• that working together, everyone would win. Each member’s efforts mattered greatly to the whole group. There was no room for loafing; each member had to do her part exceptionally well.
• We had to meet the challenges through hard work and dedication as a team and were to win as a team.

Later in life when I came across Ash Hoehn’s They told me there is no “I” in the team, where he recognizes that when the “I” is absorbed then he becomes part of something much more powerful. For me it was like preaching to the already converted.
Our coach was so good that not on any single occasion did I make a false start or any of us ever dropped the relay button or strayed from her lane.
Traditionally, the 4 by 110 yards relay is usually the last event of track events therefore it is watched by an enthusiastic crowd. I can hear the deafening cheers today as our anchor crossed the finish line. I would shout myself hoarse as I cheered her along. Thereafter, the four of us would hold our hands together and let it reality sink in. It brought so much joy to us while at the same time motivating us to do much better the following year. We recognized early on that being the best came with a price tag-working harder to remain at the top.

Arguably, we were given an opportunity to show off our ability. Our reward was a Uganda Bookshop Voucher worth Twenty Ugandan shillings. It could buy at least three books by then. During those six years, I bought many books and novels from the well-stocked Bookshop using the Relay, Long Jump and 220 yards vouchers. It fuelled my reading habit fiercely. I remember that period of time with a lot of joy and gratitude. I am the richer for having had such competitive experiences.
The words of the American ballet dancer, Misty Copeland ring so true: “My childhood is a part of my story, and it’s why I ‘m who I am today and why my career is what it is.”

Looking back now, I recognize that I gained much more than the victory and the books by being a member of my school relay team. The ancient Greeks who started the first recognized Ancient Olympic Games in 776 BC believed that sports made us better people and at the same time kept us fit and healthy. Yes, I admit that I am a better person for having been an athlete. Sports helped me to develop virtues which I continue to apply in almost in any endeavor in life.
Among the most prized virtues are:

  1. Self-knowledge- In your quest for human excellence, you first have to know yourself: your strength and weaknesses. You have to recognize and confront your weaknesses in order to improve. You are a ‘work in progresses’ so your strengths can also be refined.
  2. Discipline- to train regularly, pushing yourself to do better without burning out or maiming yourself.
  3. Courage- to stick to the good and persevere despite the outcome. Winning is not everything so you have to value it mainly because of the virtues associated with it. You have to be tough and intelligent enough to know when to quit too.
  4. Working as a team – whatever you choose to do or be in life, you start as an individual but along the way, you are always helped by teachers, mentors, sponsors and friends to achieve your goal.

As I grew up and matured I applied these virtues in marriage, parenthood and in the medical profession. They served me exceptionally well; probably that is why I am writing this post.
Our team motivated many youths and young adults because everyone loves a winner. Which Ugandan can forget our two Olympic golden boys: Akii-Bua (RIP) and Stephen Kiprotich?
Having said that, everyone is also quick to withdraw admiration for any sportsman or woman who wins illegitimately. Who can forget the 1988 Olympics in Seoul? Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter, for the men’s 100 metres was stripped off his Olympic gold for doping. In the blink of an eye, he fell from hero to zero. Who can also forget how Lance Armstrong the seven –times Tour de France winner fell from grace to disgrace for drug use in October 2012?


My sincere wish is for sports to continue being part of a child’s education. As it fires the child to cultivate human excellence, it endows
her/him with great principles and values which he/she will need all her/his life.


“ Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere,’’ so says one Chinese Proverb.

QUESTION:
Were you a Sportsman or sportswoman? How did this experience contribute to who you are today?

A NEW CANVAS

I remember when I was in senior secondary school decades ago, I wanted to drop out of the Fine Art class so I paid very little attention to it. I never completed any painting and at the end of the double lessons, I would deliberately store my unfinished , unsigned painting in a drawer for the lower classes’ work. Each week I would have no painting to complete so I would start on a new one right away. Surprisingly, the Arts teacher never noticed my trick. It went on for almost a year and it would have continued had not the Ministry of Education changed the grading and examination for the Ordinary Level students. Among the new changes was that the course work for the two years would account for 33% of the total marks of the final examination while the examination papers themselves accounted for the rest. I was in a total mess so I came up with the idea of talking the Headmistress into allowing me to drop Fine Art and devote the extra time to French. One afternoon ,I talked to her, I pleaded, begged and cajoled for her to allow me to drop Fine Art. She opened the big record book that contained all the students’ results for some years. She combed through mine and looked up, “ I ‘ve heard your request and I ‘ve also studied your examination results from Senior two to the present. All the years you’ve been able to pass all the subject brilliantly except Fine Art. I know that you haven’t paid attention to it. If you put your mind to it, you would pass it too.’’
I cried hysterically but the white lady never gave in. She had seen enough African tears to tell the difference! She had told me the bald truth. I walked away in despair but changed my attitude towards the subject there and then. The first thing I had to do was to find my own time to start and complete as many paintings as I could under the genres of Composition, Drawing, Still Life and Nature. It was a daunting task but since the course work was to account for a third of the total score in the finals, I focused on it. I gave it my all.
Guess what ! I passed Fine Art with a good credit. For my Headmistress it was a case of ‘ I told you so.’
The two great lessons I learned from this experience were: when you start something with enthusiasm, you have to finish it with enthusiasm and secondly that unfinished work is as good as no work; you stay where you are.

Fast Forward, 2018 has passed and we are now in 2019.
Out with the Old and in with the New. Each one of us has a mission and purpose on this earth and each new year gives us an opportunity to start afresh on something that fits into our life’s mission.
Before you start on the new, you have to complete the old by taking time to reflect on it.
You have to go through what you set out to do in 2018:
List your success, your achievements and failures.
List your strengths and weaknesses
List what you would have done better and how you would have done it.
List the great lessons you picked from your experiences of 2018.
Bearing your life’s mission in mind, then go on to determine the true priorities for 2019.
From here, then set your Vision and Goals for 2019. This should be followed by drawing a clear, specific , achievable Plan of how to achieve the goals for 2019.
Immediately, get into action to paint the New Canvas.

We are all artist ; creating our lives and writing our own scripts as we fulfill our visions and goals for each year.
I have come to look at the journey of life as a Marathon and each new year allows me to focus on the end in mind. The race starts in my mind then I plan and set my pace to get to the end without forgetting that there are other runners around me.

While creating our lives and living them, we have to remember that creating great works demands for great imaginations. It is the imagination that helps you to interpret the world around you in an artistic way.
Michelangelo the greatest sculptor said:
“ I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’’
“ Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the Sculptor to discover it.”
It is always hard work to release the potential within you. You need to find a balance between childlike spontaneity, openness and maturity, skill and wisdom to create a better life as you uncover the buried potential in you. Your creations express who you are and what you think and know at that moment in time.
Over time, you become so good that your creations express the beauty and significance even in the most horrible experiences like the loss of a spouse. You can only produce your greatest work: things that are deeply meaningful, beautiful and moving, after you have come to know, accept and appreciate who you really are. You create things out of the truth of who you are. If you are a writer, this is when you are said to be writing down your Soul , if a singer you are said to be singing from the heart and an architect is said to be creating houses with souls. Your heart, mind and soul work together in tandem. Your efforts to create no longer feel like work or labour but instead give you a sense of great joy. It is fun to do what you love and enjoy.

The aim of creations is to bring out the beauty and significance in your life and of others around you.
The losses, the doubts, fears and failures we experience each year serve to inform us as we create our lives in the New Year. You never deny anything that happened to you but you accept them as worthy and valuable. What you have overcome, dealt with or failed to achieve teaches you a lesson you need later in the New Year.
Honesty and authenticity tend to come to us in old age for by then we have stopped living in defined roles instead do what we feel is right and is our own to do. It takes a lot of courage to break all the rules and norms to be ‘you’. This explains why expressing your true story is a painful process and yet it is a great moment of liberation.
If each individual is true to herself /himself then we can collectively make a better world.
Jane Nannono, The Last Lifeline(2015)
THE GIFT OF TIME
We all mellow with the years.
Like good wine we become better people:
older , wiser and respected,
we have hindsight and know who we really are.
We have found our purpose and meaning in life;
We have learnt from our mistakes and grown from our failures.
We are comfortable with ourselves ,
we look at things in their true perspective;
no jaundiced views, no tinted glasses, no veils or masks.
We are our own bosses and have learnt to say ‘no’,
we have stopped playing along to get along.
We have stopped feeling guilty and now do what is right.
We have learnt to forgive ourselves and to laugh at ourselves.
We have learnt to love ourselves and unashamedly put ourselves first.
We only do what adds value to our lives;
what we love and enjoy doing.
Being comfortable with whom we are, simply being ourselves.

QUESTION:
In this New Year are you ready to respond creatively and anew to each new experience?
Or are you still limited by social conditioning ; working within predefined roles and being defined by the roles?
The New Year has already begun so you should have started painting on the New Canvas. Do not wait as I foolishly did in my Fine Art class decades ago; it caught up with me and I paid a huge price for it. The wisest among us always learn from other people’s mistakes.