One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong.
Hank Aaron, arguably the greatest baseball player of all time
Joan Benoit, arguably the greatest marathon runner of all time
Tom Brady, arguably the greatest football player of all time
Nadia Comaneci, arguably the greatest gymnast of all time
Althea Gibson, arguably the greatest golfer of all time
Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time
Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time
Katie Ledecky, arguably the greatest swimmer of all time
Serena Williams, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time
Bob Becker, inarguably the greatest ultra-distance runner of all time
A case could be man for Babe Ruth (714 lifetime home runs) or Albert Pujols (703) rather than Hank Aaron (755). Reasonable people could suggest Tirunesh Dibaba (2:17:56, marathon) or Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25) over Joan Benoit (2:21:21). Indeed, what could be more enjoyable than an enthusiastic confab on the relative excellences of Nadia Comaneci, Olga Korbut, and Simone Biles? Number of lifetime wins, stats, competitors could all be part of the dialogue.
With one exception. There is no one living, nor anyone in the history of this glowing orb, who can be mentioned in the same exchange of syllables as Bob Becker, the greatest athlete you’ve never heard of, the greatest living athlete, an athlete whose accomplishments are as extraordinary as they are obscure.
At a stage in life when many folks gripe about sitting in a car for a motorized air-conditioned journey of 135 miles, Bob Becker covered that distance running. The Badwater course goes from 282 feet below sea level up to the highest point in the contiguous United States, the top of Mount Whitney, 14,505 feet up. While typical folks complain about going outside when the temperature approaches 90 degrees, the thermometer in Death Valley reads 110. At night. Bob would have finished a little faster than 48 hours 17 minutes, but he had to stop to change shoes frequently. Because his shoes melted.
What does this impossibly dedicated, accomplished athlete have to do with my usual columns about parenting? Only this: your kids will never beat Bob Becker in an ultra. At any distance. Under any circumstances. Bob runs a hundred miles the way you and I walk up a flight of stairs. And Bob is 78. As I write this (Sunday, June 18th) Bob has just finished running 167 miles in 48 hours. Bob is the best ultra-runner is the history of the universe. So your kids had better feel good about their accomplishments. They have to have a sense of themselves for who they are rather than for whom they beat. Parents have to help their kids feel good about how hard they try, not on where they finish, certainly not on where they are admitted to college. Focusing on place value is debilitating.
I heard recently that “everyone gets a trophy” teaches kids that winning isn’t important. If that’s true then everyone reading this essay and seven billion people other folks are all pathetic failures because none of us is fit to carry Bob Becker’s (melted) running shoes. Encouraging your kids to be the best they can be rather than the best somebody else can be is the way to go. If you follow this gentle guidance, you too can be unlike the others. In my judgment, you will be a better parent if you celebrate your children whether they Although it remains unlikely that you will be invited to appear on Sesame Street.