How often do you begin a task, whether large and complex or small and quick, only to decide to give up halfway through? When we know nobody is really counting on us to finish something, it can be hard to follow through and reach the finish line, especially when the work isn’t easy.
Whenever I feel like quitting halfway through a task, I remind myself of a story about a girl named Ally.
Ally and my son Keith had been classmates since kindergarten. She is energetic and loves to laugh just like any of the other kids in their class. As a child, she loved to participate in track and field events, go ice skating, play baseball with her family, and wasn’t afraid to climb the tallest of trees.
The only real difference between Ally and the rest of her classmates is that she was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD), a rare birth defect that affects the pelvis (particularly the hip bone), and the proximal femur. She has had numerous surgeries over the years to try to improve her mobility. In 2009, doctors performed a surgery that turned her foot backwards to use her ankle as knee joint. Ally spent many months in a wheelchair, and became much more mobile since being fitted with her prosthetic leg. She has always had a passion for running and she now participates in every activity she possibly can.
In 2010, Ally trained with the track team, and the track coach Mr. McCallum told me, “Her dedication is incredible. She hasn’t missed a single practice.” That year when it came time for regionals, their school did not have any pupil qualify for the 800-metre event for Ally’s Grade 5/6 group. “Ally saw this as her opportunity to do what she loved to do, and she stepped up to represent her school in the event,” Mr. McCallum said.
The regionals took place in London, with 14 local schools participating. When it came time to run the 800-metre race for the Grade 5/6 girls, the weather was getting iffy and clouds surrounded the field. The pressure was on to keep the events moving quickly, as coordinators did not want to reschedule.
During Ally’s race, she quickly fell behind the other runners. Although she ran with quite a limp and wasn’t able to keep up with the rest of the kids, it didn’t stop her from carrying on with a smile on her face and sheer determination. When she was lapped by the rest of the girls and everyone else had finished, Mr. McCallum ran out to see how she was doing and if she was in any pain. He told her how proud everyone one was of her for stepping up to represent the school, and that she didn’t have to finish the final lap. Alison replied stating she was fine, and she didn’t care that she would be the final girl to cross the finish line; she just wanted to finish.
Mr. McCallum ran over to the starter to see if was OK for Ally to complete the race, knowing that coordinators were watching the clock, but fortunately the starter said it was not an issue. Just then, one of the volunteer students from Grade 8 came out and began running with her. Five of her classmates joined them.
Then an amazing thing happened. The rest of the pupils from all competing schools cleared the stands and took to the track to join Ally for the final 150 metres. The track was jammed and the smile on Ally’s face said it all; she was proud as proud can be when she crossed the finish line. For just that moment, it didn’t matter which school they were from. Everyone came together with a common goal.
I had a chance to talk to Ally a few days after her race. When I asked how she felt when her classmates joined in, I remembered she replied, “Pretty neat. It helped me run faster, especially when they joined me. I made up my mind that I wanted to finish, and I did. I made it.”
It’s not much wonder one of her heroes is Terry Fox. “We’re kind of a lot alike,” she said with a grin as she looked down at her leg.
Ally’s parents say they are extremely proud of her and her refuse-to-give-up attitude. “She provides us with so much encouragement and inspiration each day. It’s like she’s not afraid to tackle anything. We love her so very much,” her father said.
See for yourself how she finished the race: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XfXn9lBlDk
It’s been 7 years since Ally ran the race which inspired so many. This past week I had the privilege of watching her walk across the stage at Saunders Secondary school (the same school where she ran her race) to receive her grade 12 diploma. Although she used a crutch to quickly make her way to centre stage, you could clearly see the determination she had in her eyes as she reached another great milestone.
June 3, 2010 was a special moment for anyone that attended the race that I’m sure they haven’t forgotten. In fact, many times that I struggled with a task that may seem impossible to complete, I quickly reminded myself of how one little girl made up her mind to finish no matter what.
Tommy Lasorda said it best, “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.” Thanks, Ally, for continuing to show us all what sheer determination, a positive attitude and the desire just to finish can do for all of us.