14 10 2013

I met Tinker back in ‘75 when I worked in some of the area high-schools as a volunteer with troubled teens.  He was a short, kind of round boy with wavy hair, freckles and an ever present grin.  Our paths crossed the first time I entered his schooImagel and was looking for the office.  Out of no where comes Tinker like a designated greeter and helps me find where I needed to go, talking my leg off the entire time we were together.  I learned he was a manager for several sports at the school and enjoyed interacting with everyone he could.  That part I could tell right away.  Later in the day when I was in the lunchroom with two of the boys I worked with up walks Tinker just as friendly as when we met earlier.  My two charges weren’t so nice in their response saying what I considered some awful things.  Tink just laughed it off and walked away. When he left I questioned why they were so mean to him.  “Oh everyone talks to Tinker that way, he’s a real loser, not even smart enough to know when people are making fun of him.”  “Still,” I answered, “it wouldn’t hurt you to be a little nicer to him.”  These guys just didn’t see it that way, “He’s such a dork he deserves everything he gets!  I thought about a couple of guys from my own school days, just like Tinker they never caused any trouble or harm, but were easy targets to be made fun of.  I learned Tinker was really getting verbally abused recently when he decided to go out for the track team as a long distance runner.  At the first practice Jeff, a really good runner and athlete gave him what for. “Tinker, you’re no long distance runner.  I’ll tell you what, I’m a sprinter and never done long distance either but just to prove you can’t do this we’ll race one time around the track, just you and me.” Well, needless to say it wasn’t much of a race.  Jeff would trot sometimes, other moments he’d run backwards smiling at Tinker as he struggled to make it round the track while the rest of the team hooted and taunted his every step.  Tinker finished the lap well behind Jeff, red faced and out of breath.  When he finally could speak, he looked directly at his smiling mocker and said, “At the end of the season we’ll race again, and I will beat you!” Years later when I was talking to Jeff about this moment he told me he didn’t put a lot of stock in Tinker’s challenge, then he said, “But I don’t think I had ever seen such determination in anyone’s face as was Tinker’s.”  And determination was right; call it having something to prove, maybe tired of the way he was always treated, Tinker was not about to give up his quest to be a runner.  One late afternoon as I was leaving the school, I noticed a lone soul out on the track chugging along–Tinker.  A teacher who was also one of the track coaches told me, “He doesn’t offer much but he’s always the first out to practice and the last to leave.”  When it came to meets, Tink very seldom got a chance to compete and if he did it was in a race that didn’t mean anything, and of course he would always finish last.  No matter how little chances he got to run, no matter how little attention the coaches and the rest of the team paid to him, and no matter still how much ribbing he would get from people thinking he was foolish to even try; he would not quit or give up.

Jeff who felt the same way as everyone else related to me the day he saw Tinker in a different light.  Some guys were working Tinker over verbally pretty hard after school as he made his way to track practice.  “Man, you are stupid to keep going out there when you stink so badly at running, why don’t you just quit?”  “For the first time ever I saw Tinker get angry,” Jeff told me.  “Tinker reeled around and looked at those guys and yelled I go out there because that’s my team and they need me.”  Everyone present started laughing until Tinker followed up, “All you guys do is run me down, but I’ve never seen any of you try out for anything, so who’s really the loser?”  It took a lot to get Tinker angry enough to say anything out of turn to someone and Jeff knew this.  Things were starting to look ugly until Jeff and another top athlete walked up.  Jeff put his hand on Tinker’s shoulder and said, “Tink, what are you doing messing around here, we got to get to practice, coach is counting on us tonight.”  Down the hall walked two star athletes, and between them, a short roly-poly boy everyone called Tinker, grinning ear to ear. Something else happened also, Tink always worked hard at every practice, but now there was an improvement in his running that could be seen.  He had dropped about 30 lbs during the season, but it didn’t seem to make a big difference.  But after Jeff came to his rescue, things changed and Tinker was improving.  Coaches decided to put him in as the second runner for the team in the 1600 meter toward the end of the season against a small school that they competed against.  The gun sounded and the two top runners from each team took off like the wind; Tinker and his competitor followed at a slower but steady pace.  The four laps went quickly and competitively as the first runners finish one, two with our school taking the top spot, but now there was another race going on, the battle for third place and the points that would go to which ever school took it.  Tinker and his combatant were pacing each other into the last lap when something happened.  People starting yelling, “Come on Tinker, you can do it!”  As he rounded each corner more people were yelling for him, “Go Tinker Go!”  Coming out of the back stretch, Tink was met by a sight he had never seen before, it was his team lined up along the track yelling and screaming encouragement, even a couple of the coaches were out there, and leading the cheering section, Jeff running stride for stride in the grass; “You can do this Tinker, don’t let up buddy!”

No where in the sports world or on any sports reel will you find evidence or even a mention of a meaningless, to most, of a race between two sub-par distance runners battling for 3rd place for a single point at a high-school track meet.  But in a small Indiana community in the early evening hours of a warm spring day there was an explosion of cheers and elations when the announcer called out, “Third place finish in the 1600, goes to TINKER!!!!”

Encouragement is awesome. It (can) actually change the course of another person’s day, week, or life. Chuck Swindoll

Tinker had a lot going against him as an athlete; he was short, heavy and looked at as not being too bright.  But he didn’t buy into it; he just knew there was something he could offer to the team effort.  When it became apparent to others and they got on board and encouraged him; he did just that, he made a difference.  Not just in running a race but in his attitude, fortitude, and belief he was going to give his best no matter what it meant or looked like.  That inner strength made an impression on a number of people, the biggest of whom was a star athlete named Jeff.

To get to my point as a Christian, isn’t that what each of us who refer to ourselves by that name should be doing everyday?  Years ago I realized I wasn’t called to do great things in the name of my Lord and Savior as the world looks at accomplishments.  But what I have to give, what talents I possess how ever small they may be, is exactly what God is looking for from all of us–to use them for His glory in showing that we are a part of something bigger, better–an awesome team, an awesome Family in Christ.

Colossians 3:23 : “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

Well, thanks for tagging along as I told of another Traveler of the Rock Road.  What? What about the race between Tinker and Jeff? Well it happened and Jeff who now lives in Pennsylvania is a VP with a corporation.  There still to this day he talks about that moment when a short roly-poly wavy haired, freckled face kid called Tinker with a grin that went ear to ear taught him so much about perseverance, team effort, and life, raced him around the school track and (legitimately!) beat him by a good 15 meters! Awesome!!!




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