Once upon a time, there were four fantastic friends; Sam, Charlie, Daniel and Michael. The boys were such good friends that, in first grade, they had made a promise to remain friends forever and to have each other’s backs, “No matter what.”
Towards the middle of the school year, the four boys were in the library discussing the upcoming sports carnival while playing a game of cards. During the conversation, it had been uncovered that it was really only Sam who was looking forward to the day as he had been deemed the sporty one. Each boy had their own unique strength and Sam’s was that he could run. This talent was discovered in the second grade when the boys were attempting to put a stick insect on their teacher’s back, only to have their prank spoiled by Lucy Pickhard who began yelling and wailing at the sight of the harmless creature, forcing their teacher to turn around while the boys scattered in all directions. Most of the boys only made it as far as the school fence before bending over with exhaustion, but Sam had kept on running and running and running. He only stopped because he realised he had, unthinkingly, made it all the way home.
Now in the fifth grade, the boys were talking about Sam’s chances of winning the coveted first place in the 800 metre sprint. Sam had entered every year but had never won. This was because of Billy Coates. Billy was a sixth grader who was faster and stronger than any of the four boys. He was also a lot meaner and a lot nastier than any of the boys as well.
Billy was notorious for getting what he wanted through all the wrong means and he had picked on the boys since they had met on the first day of school. He had regularly stolen their lunches, forced them to hand over their homework for him to copy and could not walk past the boys without making negative comments about their freckles, hair colour, arm strength, intelligence, or any other feature Billy felt was worthy of attention that day.
Over their game of cards, the boys were brainstorming ways to trick, trap or make trouble for Billy Coates so that he couldn’t enter the race. They had hatched all sorts of wonderful plans and developed all kinds of schemes including putting dirt in Billy’s lunch to make him sick before the race, adding an extra bike lock to his bike so he couldn’t ride to school that day, or ringing his house and telling his parents the school had burned down and not to bother coming in for the day.
In the end, all the laughter and planning in the world couldn’t stop Sam from pointing out the truth of the situation: he was going to have to train and train hard. There were four weeks left until the big race and Sam believed he could put in enough work to win the race fair and square. And, just like they had promised, the boys promised to have his back.
The first week of training came and went without any issues at all. On top of the usual school-based training, Sam ran twice a day; once before school at 6am and once after school at 3pm. He watched training videos focussing on running technique and he ate very well. The boys were excited at seeing Sam’s progress, as they all felt like they had a hand in the advancements being made.
The second week of training became more intense, and Sam began waking up at 6am for his run and then running after school until 5pm. He had stopped going to orchestra practice and was now on a strict diet of what he referred to as “Running Fuel”. The boys began to notice that Sam had not been able to talk about much else other than running, which didn’t bother them too much as they wanted to stay true to their promise.
During the third week of training, the boys hardly saw Sam at all. He was now waking up at 5, running until 6 and had begun using his lunchtimes to continue training by running around the school oval. This meant no cards, no pranks and no one to have the witty comebacks needed when Billy Coates approached them for their daily teasing. The boys started to feel their negativity towards Sam’s training building as it was never meant to take their friend from them. They had his back, why couldn’t he have theirs?
In the fourth and final week of training, the three boys did not speak to Sam at all. No one was sure what time he was waking up, what time he was going to sleep and, for the first time in his school history, Sam was not handing in homework. They only saw each other in class and even then they were now sitting away from each other.
The day of the race arrived and Sam could be seen on the edge of the oval stretching and warming up. The other boys waited with their class and watched from a distance. Billy Coates was entertaining a small crowd of sixth graders by pretending to flex his muscles in the style of a bodybuilder.
The race was called, and eight runners, including Sam and Billy, walked up to their starting line and took their marks to begin. The gun sounded and all the racers took off at the same time. It didn’t take long before Sam and Billy were at the front of the pack and it was clear one of them was going to win. It was neck and neck in the final moments of the race and the boys started giving everything they had as they approached the finish line. They crossed the finish line in what appeared to be perfect unison. It was a tie. It was unbelievable.
What happened next was even more unbelievable. The two boys kept running around the oval, eventually having the all of the students and staff turn their attention to what was bound to be one of the most epic races the school had ever witnessed. By the time the race entered into its fifth minute, everyone was wondering when the race was going to finish. How could it end if there was no finish line? For the next two hours, the boys ran side by side, occasionally looking over at one another to assess and see if their opponent’s determination was failing.
It wasn’t until the three-hour mark that Billy had begun to drop behind. At the three-hour and 15-minute mark, Billy dropped out of the race and on to the ground. People had started to make their way on to the oval to congratulate Sam, but he had surprisingly kept on running and, by this stage, he had left the school grounds and was continuing to run along the street. Soon, he was so far in the distance that only a select few people could make out how far away he had run and it had become clear that he wasn’t going to stop.
The three friends stood and watched as Sam was chasing the sunset, with Daniel eventually breaking the silence. “Can we still have his back if he is longer with us?”
“I’m not sure,” replied Michael.
They watched as Sam’s fading silhouette disappeared into the distance and eventually dropped below the horizon.
This tale has some connections to Tale #58 – A Tale on how to Make Friends. Click here to go deeper!
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