LIFE! What a precious gift from God. What a blessing to be alive in a wonderful, vibrant world of unlimited possibilities. Then, adversity strikes, and this “gift” feels more like a curse. “Why? Why me?” we ask. Yet we never get an answer, or do we? After contracting Hodgkin’s disease at age seven and being given six months to live, I triumphed over the odds. Call it luck, hope, faith or courage, there are thousands of survivors! Winners like us know the answer – “Why not us? We can handle it!” I’m not dying of cancer. I’m living with cancer. God doesn’t make junk, regardless of what comes our way, and I don’t have to be afraid anymore.
In my sophomore year of high school, the class was scheduled to run the mile. I will always remember that day because due to the swelling and scars from surgery on my leg, for two solid years I had not worn shorts. I was afraid of the teasing. So, for two years I lived in fear. Yet that day, it didn’t matter. I was ready – shorts, heart and mind. I no sooner got to the starting line before I heard the loud whispers. “Gross!” “How fat!” “How ugly!” I blocked it out.
Then the coach yelled, “Ready. Set. Go!” I jetted out of there like an airplane, faster than anyone for the first 20 feet. I didn’t know much about pacing then, but it was okay because I was determined to finish first. As we came around the first of four laps, there were students all over the track. By the end of the second lap, many of the students had already quit. They had given up and were on the ground gasping for air. As I started the third lap, only a few of my classmates were left on the track, and I began limping. By the time I hit the fourth lap, I was alone. Then it hit me. I realized that nobody had given up. Instead, everyone had already finished. As I ran that last lap, I cried. I realized that every boy and girl in my class had beat me, and 12 minutes, 42 seconds after starting, I crossed the finish line. I fell to the ground and shed oceans. I was so embarrassed.
Suddenly my coach ran up to me and picked me up, yelling, “You did it. Manuel! Manuel, you finished, son. You finished!” He looked me straight in the eye waving a piece of paper in his hand. It was my goal for the day, which I had forgotten. I had given it to him before class. He read it aloud to everyone. It simply said, “I Manuel Diotte, will finish the mile run tomorrow, come what may. No pain or frustration will stop me. For I am more than capable of finishing, and with God as my strength, I will finish.” Signed, Manuel Diotte – with a little smiling face inside the D, as I always sign my name. My heart lifted. My tears went away, and I had a smile on my face as if I had eaten a banana sideways. My classmates applauded and gave me my first standing ovation. It was then I realized winning isn’t always finishing first. Sometimes winning is just finishing.