Unlike Carl Lewis and Daley Thompson, Derek Redmond is not a name that conjures up memories of Olympic gold medals. But it is Redmond who defines the essence of the human spirit.
Redmond arrived at the 1992 Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona determined to win a medal in the 400. The color of the medal was meaningless; he just wanted to win one. Just one.
He had been forced to withdraw from the 400 at the 1988 Games in Seoul, only 10 minutes before the race, because of an Achilles tendon injury. He then underwent five surgeries over the next year. This was the same runner who had shattered the British 400-meter record at age 19. So when the 1992 Games arrived, this was his time, his moment, his stage, to show the world how good he was and who he was.
Derek’s father Jim had accompanied him to Barcelona, just as he did for all world competitions. They were as close as a father and son could be. Inseparable, really. The best of friends. When Derek ran, it was as if his father were running right next to him.
The day of the race arrives. Father and son reminisce about what it took for Derek to get to this point. They talk about ignoring past heartbreaks and past failures. They agree that if anything bad happens, no matter what it is, Derek has to finish the race, period.
The top four finishers in each of the two semifinal heats qualify for the Olympic final. As race time approaches for the semifinal 400 heat, Jim heads up to his seat at the top of Olympic Stadium, not far from where the Olympic torch was lit just a few days earlier. He is wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Have you hugged your foot today?”
The stadium is packed with 65,000 fans, bracing themselves for one of sport’s greatest and most exciting spectacles. The race begins and Redmond breaks from the pack and quickly seizes the lead. “Keep it up, keep it up,” Jim says to himself.
Down the backstretch, only 175 meters away from finishing, Redmond is a shoo-in to make the finals. Suddenly, he hears a pop in his right hamstring. He pulls up lame, as if he had been shot.
“Oh, no,” Jim says to himself. His face pales. His leg quivering, Redmond begins hopping on one leg, then slows down and falls to the track. As he lays on the track, clutching his right hamstring, a medical personnel unit runs toward him. At the same time, Jim Redmond, seeing his son in trouble, races down from the top row of the stands, sidestepping people, bumping into others. He has no credential to be on the track, but all he thinks about is getting to his son, to help him up. “I wasn’t going to be stopped by anyone,” he later told the media.
On the track, Redmond realizes his dream of an Olympic medal is gone. Tears run down his face. “All I could think was, ‘I’m out of the Olympics — again,'” he would say.
As the medical crew arrives with a stretcher, Redmond tells them, “No, there’s no way I’m getting on that stretcher. I’m going to finish my race.”
Then, in a moment that will live forever in the minds of millions, Redmond lifts himself to his feet, ever so slowly, and starts hobbling down the track. The other runners have finished the race, with Steve Lewis of the U.S. winning the contest in 44.50. Suddenly, everyone realizes that Redmond isn’t dropping out of the race by hobbling off to the side of the track. No, he is actually continuing on one leg. He’s going to attempt to hobble his way to the finish line. All by himself. All in the name of pride and heart.
Slowly, the crowd, in total disbelief, rises and begins to roar. The roar gets louder and louder. Through the searing pain, Redmond hears the cheers, but “I wasn’t doing it for the crowd,” he would later say. “I was doing it for me. Whether people thought I was an idiot or a hero, I wanted to finish the race. I’m the one who has to live with it.”
One painful step at a time, each one a little slower and more painful than the one before, his face twisted with pain and tears, Redmond limps onward, and the crowd, many in tears, cheer him on.
Suddenly, Jim Redmond finally gets to the bottom of the stands, leaps over the railing, avoids a security guard, and runs out to his son, with two security people chasing after him. “That’s my son out there,” he yells back to security, “and I’m going to help him.”
Finally, with Derek refusing to surrender and painfully limping along the track, Jim reaches his son at the final curve, about 120 meters from the finish, and wraps his arm around his waist.
“I’m here, son,” Jim says softly, hugging his boy. “We’ll finish together.” Derek puts his arms around his father’s shoulders and sobs.
Together, arm in arm, father and son, with 65,000 people cheering, clapping and crying, finish the race, just as they vowed they would. A couple steps from the finish line, and with the crowd in an absolute frenzy, Jim releases the grip he has on his son, so Derek could cross the finish line by himself. Then he throws his arms around Derek again, both crying, along with everyone in the stands and on TV.
Check out this wonderful moment here.
“I’m the proudest father alive,” he tells the press afterwards, tears in his eyes. “I’m prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did.”
Derek may not have won a medal that day, but he did finish his race. I bet none of us can remember who won medals in the 400 m race in Barcelona in 1992, but anyone who saw this will never forget it. It shows the very essence of the human spirit. It demonstrates the love a father has for his son. It would be very hard to watch that video and not be moved to a state beyond words.
This weekend we celebrate Father’s Day. When I think about my dad, and all he has done for me and how much he loves me, it moves me to tears. Unfortunately, it took me many years for me to really appreciate him like I should have.
My dad is kind and loving. He is one of the most humble men I have ever met. He is one of the greatest living examples I have ever seen of a godly man. He works hard, he is honest, he cares deeply. My dad has spent his life taking care of animals, crops, and other people. Each day he finds a way to serve others in some capacity. I look up to him so much. He is my hero.
As I have aged I have found that I am more like him than I ever realized earlier in my life and that makes me happy. My dad is someone I want to be like. God has blessed my dad with many gifts and he has chosen to share those gifts with others.
My dad has never helped me actually finish a race like Jim helped his son in those Olympics, but in the symbolic sense, my dad has been there whenever I have stumbled and struggled in this life. We all have our own race to run. Life is our race.
When I have fallen, he has always been there to help me up and get me headed towards the finish line. When it was a struggle for me to make my way on my own, he would put his arm around me and take on some of my weight and help me to keep moving forward. At other times, he has stood back and let me make my way on my own, learning from my own struggles. Simply put, I would not be the man I am today if it was not for my dad.
On this Father’s Day, I want to say thanks for my dad. Thanks for being a loving father, a role model, and a hero.
In this same manner, we all have a loving Father, who will help us along in our struggles we encounter in our lives. When we fall, He will pick us up and help carry us for a while until we get going again. He loves us more than we can even understand. As much as our earthly fathers love us, our God loves us even more. He loves us so much that he will even let us make our own mistakes so we can learn from them, even though He knew what was best for us all along.
Each of us will finish our own race. How we live our lives will determine how our race goes and how we finish that race. There will be times that we will struggle. There are times we will sprint. There are times we will fall. What is important is that we do not have to run the race alone. God is with us every step of the way. Once we let God into our hearts, He never leaves our side.
The best part is knowing that when my race comes to an end, when I finally do reach the finish line, God will be there to take me into His arms and take me home. That day will be a glorious one indeed.
I am so thankful for the two wonderful fathers I have that will continue to help me on my race. My earthly father John and my heavenly father God. Thanks for your help in finishing my race. I couldn’t do it without you.