"Come on, Sudeep!" "Buck up, Zaheer!" "Kartik, move on!" The shouts were deafening.
As Vivek plodded on, he looked up and saw the disappearing backs of his class-mates. It was the second day of the Annual Athletic Meet of his school - ‘The Blue Birds Public School’. The final of the 800 meter race was in progress. As Vivek was completing one round of the circle of 400 meters, there was a deafening roar and Zaheer streaked past him to win the race. There were peals of laughter, but Vivek continued running and completed two full rounds of the circle. By the time he finished, he was the only one left in the race. Exhausted, he plunked down on the ground and was greeted with jeers.
"See yaar, our Carl Lewis has finally completed the race."
"We should congratulate him. He has stood first from last."
Vivek did not utter a word. He quietly got up and hobbled off. Losing was not a new experience for him. In the last two days, he had participated in long jump, high jump, 100 meters and hurdles. In all these, he had been eliminated in the preliminaries itself. In 800 meters, since the number of competitors were few, they had not conducted any heats. This way, Vivek had managed a place in the final. The next day, there was one more event - the cross country race. Though Vivek knew he had no chance, he had decided to participate. Failure didn’t really affect him. He had got used to it. Whether academics or sports or extra-curricular activities, Vivek had always been among the ‘also-rans’. He had not won a single prize in his life. He was always part of the crowd which applauded when the winners walked on stage to collect their awards. He longed for the moment when his name would be called and as he proudly strode on stage, there would be the sweet sound of applause ringing in his ears.
Vivek was an incorrigible optimist. He was sure that if he kept trying, some day or the other, he would win a prize. And that day, that hour, that moment would be the finest one in his life.
The next day, Vivek came fully charged for the cross-country race. As the whistle blew, he sprinted ahead. A few hundred meters later, he was a spent force. The rest of the competitors overtook him one by one. But as was his habit, he struggled on. By the time he reached the destination, there was only and old man standing there. He was tall, thin and completely bald. ‘In a fancy-dress competition, this old man can go as a boiled egg,’ thought Vivek as he slumped on the ground, totally exhausted.
"Well son, so you have finally managed to complete the race."
"Yes Sir, and as usual, I am last."
"I have been watching you over the last few days; you are an enthusiastic competitor. But don’t you get fed up of losing?"
"No, Sir, I don’t. I am sure that some day or the other I will definitely win. All I have to do is to keep trying. The more I lose, the more determined I am to win. And believe me Sir, one of these days I will surprise everyone by winning," said Vivek, and slowly walked away.
In the afternoon was the prize-giving ceremony. The entire school had gathered in the stadium. As each name was announced, Vivek would feel a pang of envy which he would immediately brush aside. His cries of encouragement and applause for the winners were the loudest. After all, he rationalized, if today he was clapping for Zaheer, Sudeep or Kartik, a day would come when they would clap for him. He could visualize that moment quite clearly. His Principal would announce, "In the 100 meters’, the first prize goes to Master Vivek Kumar of Class Eight." He would march smartly to the dais and shake hands with the Chief Guest and receive the shield. He would then walk back to thunderous applause, he would .... Suddenly he felt everyone was staring at him. Someone had called his name. He looked around stupidly. His friend, George, pushed him from behind. "Vivek, hurry, go on stage, your name is being called."
Vivek got up in a daze. The Principal was announcing, "Vivek Kumar of Class Eight, please come to the dais."
As he walked to the dais, he saw the old man - ‘Mr. Boiled Egg’ standing next to the Principal.
"Come Vivek, stand beside me," he said and took the mike from the Principal.
"Friends, I am R.K. Rao. My son, Ankur, was a student of this school. He was studying in Class Eight when we found out that he had cancer. He had to leave school. We tried all possible means to get him cured. Finally, we ere told that he had only six months to live. My wife and I were completely heartbroken. It was as if life itself had lost its meaning. It was then that our son came to our rescue. He used every trick known to him to cheer us up. In spite of the pain and suffering he was going through, he kept laughing and making us laugh. Till the very last, he was a picture of hope and cheer. In fact, in dying, he taught us more about life than any living person could ever have. He taught us that it is not the number of years that one spends that is important but how one spends those years. Though he lost out in the race for life, he taught us that winning or losing was not important. What is important is how you have run the race," Mr.Rao stopped and wiped his eyes.
For a few moments he looked at his audience, which was listening with rapt attention, and continued, "When I came to know about the Athletic Meet, I decided to donate a shield in the memory of my son. When I suggested this to the Principal of your school, he was very happy. He invited me to witness the Meet and decide for myself who should be honored with the shield. At first, I thought I should give it to the fastest boy of the Meet. Then I thought no, I will give it to the boy who bags the maximum number of trophies. As the Meet progressed, my attention was caught by one boy who seemed to be everywhere. He was a quiet, ordinary-looking boy. I wouldn’t have noticed him but for the fact that he seemed to come last or close to that in very event he participated in. Yet, his failures seemed to neither upset him nor lessen his enthusiasm in any way. Till the very end, he kept participating with the same spirit and the same optimism. I though to myself - ‘Here, at last, is a child who symbolizes everything my son stood for.’ So my friends, I present this shield to this young man, Vivek Kumar for his ‘never say die’ spirit.
As Vivek stepped forward to take the shield, the applause was deafening.