All photos by: Adias Odonelis 

It was the fifth and final Lane 6 Saturday morning at Central Tech Stadium, and my mentee was eager to tell me all about her new cat, Chi-Chi, who had gotten a little frisky with her finger the day before. I couldn’t help but notice as Sabrina spoke that her teeth were tinged pink, tipping me off to the fact that freezies were on the breakfast menu today. Electrolytes, I guess?

Our last session together started with a very familiar exercise: the five-minute running challenge. As soon as we began it became apparent that Sabrina was not in the mood to run. We had hoped to make it around the track twice but, if I’m being honest, once was a stretch. She was tired and unusually grumpy. “I hate this,” she whined, as I pulled her along, trying every trick in the book to snap her out of this funk.

Then I remembered the strategy that the wonderful Brittany Scott, manager of community impact for Nike Canada, had suggested to us before the kids arrived that morning. I told Sabrina that the snazzy Nike sneakers she had been given when the program commenced wouldn’t be hers to take home unless she earned them—by putting in her best effort. “What? Is that really true?” she asked, looking simultaneously skeptical and worried. I assured her that it was. Nike wouldn’t hand free shoes over to a girl who hates running, now would they?

As it turns out, bribery works. Sabrina’s attitude changed after that (thanks, Britt!), and just in time for the long-awaited sibling showdown.

It was the event I had been looking forward to since Day 1, Sabrina and Joseph going head-to-head in the 50- and 100-metre sprints. Sabrina won the 50 and Joseph inched ahead to take the 100 with cheers erupting from the sidelines. The 200-metre race was supposed to be the tie breaker, but Joseph somehow ended up in a different heat. I worried that without her brother to compete against, Sabrina might struggle. But, boy, I was wrong.

Determined as ever, she powered through and finished strong, her furthest continuous distance to date. And I realize that 200 metres might not sound like much to most people, but to her it was a definite breakthrough. In that moment it didn’t matter who finished before or after her, or that her brother wasn’t racing in the next lane. It was a shiny new achievement and the first step towards getting out of her head and running with her heart.

“Did I do good?” she asked hopefully, after crossing the finish line. “Yes! That was amazing!” I gushed, sealing it with a high-five.

We cooled down with a slow lap around the track—our last one together, I told her, when she tried to get out of it. And then, when we were about 100 metres from the end, I heard the words that every Lane 6 mentor dreams of hearing: “Can I sprint now?” A thousand times yes!

Brittany announced that all the kids earned their sneakers, and then it was time to say our goodbyes. The program organizers had provided cards for us to give our mentees, containing portraits that the onsite photographer had taken of us the week prior. Sabrina was thrilled. We exchanged email addresses, shared the biggest hug, and I told her how proud I was of her for showing up week after week and making so much progress. “I’ll see you on the track,” I said with a wink, before sending her on her way. After all, Central Tech will be her new school as of September.

The mentors and coaches waved a final farewell as the kids headed towards the bus, and only then did it begin to sink in how truly transformative this experience was.

Lane 6 might be over, but this series isn’t finished quite yet. Keep an eye out for my closing reflections next week. Did you miss the Week 4 installment? Catch up here

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