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Lessons from Seabiscuit

A few days ago, I watched the movie Seabiscuit for the first time.

Have you seen it?

Oh word, but someone should have warned me that it is a three hanky movie!

What an emotional roller coaster!

As I watched…and cried… I could not help but see life lessons in so many parts of the movie.

If you are one of the three people on earth not to have seen the movie, let me first explain that it is about a horse, much smaller than other thoroughbreds of his time, that was basically written off because he was small in stature, stubborn, and not considered competitive enough to excel to the degree that was expected at that time.

Through the love and dedication of a new owner, trainer, and jockey, Seabiscuit defied the odds and wound up being one of the greatest racehorses of his day.

Here are some of the life lessons that worked their way into my heart…many lessons that can be applied to my teaching as well.

  • Never count a person out, despite external appearances.  Despite being small in stature, Seabiscuit beat War Admiral, a horse much larger than him who had also won more prestigious titles, including the Triple Crown.  The desire to win is what brought Seabiscuit to the finish line first.  It was all about his heart, not his physical prowess.  “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” while trite, certainly is true when it comes to how we perceive people and the expectations we have for them.
  • When facing challenges, we do much better when we face them head-on…eye-to-eye.  Seabiscuit won when he was able to make eye contact with his competition.  These face offs, so to speak, stirred up the desire to beat that which sought to beat him.  How can we ever overcome what assails us if we avoid it…stay back in the pack and accept our situations as being what they are?
  • Don’t be discouraged if you’re running in the back of the pack.  Never give up.  Don’t think that those running the race out in front have it any better than those in the back.  If you’ve ever watched a horse race, you know that most times, the horse in the lead from the get-go does not win in the end.  Pacing yourself, making steady progress…that’s where success comes from.  So many of my students get upset when they don’t master something completely.  Boy, how I know this feeling!  I try to point out areas where they made improvement.  The final result will not always be a out-and-out win, per se; however, if progress has been made, that particular race can be claimed as a victory!
  • Sincerity in a person is innate; people who are hurting naturally respond to those they perceive as sincere.  The movie depicted a scene where Seabiscuit nipped Red Pollard, the young man who would become his jockey, the first time they met.  I did a bit of research (I am nerdy this way) and learned that Pollard actually offered Seabiscuit a cube of sugar; whereupon, the horse nudged him in the shoulder, which was a sign of affection.  The horse had not responded to others in this way.  The trainer, Tom Smith, observed this and immediately paired the two together.
  • A gentle touch can change a life.  Red Pollard was an experienced jockey who was known for not using the whip when he rode.  His gentleness was just what Seabiscuit needed to build his trust.  As a teacher, I need to remember that the children who walk into my classroom have been battered by life.  Many have had people give up on them, as their behavior records show.  Many have had people walk out on them, as evidenced by the number of absent parents, both mothers and fathers (I have seen both situations).  The students who walk into my room expect to encounter a teacher who is harsh with the discipline because that’s what they’ve always had.  They are shocked when the find the opposite to be true.  Sure, I handle business.  And yes, I run a tight ship.  However, treating students gently and with respect is a novel thing, and they THRIVE in it, achieving success in ways they never expected.  However, I am not perfect, and I do come unglued at times.  I need to remember the lesson of Red Pollard and how he treated Seabiscuit.
  • Brokenness responds to brokenness.  I think one of the most touching scenes in the movie was when Red walked up to Seabiscuit.  Both of them had experienced career ending injuries.  Both were battered and sporting casts.  In that moment, when they met face to face after being apart for some time, I believe they sensed their deep need for each other.  They could comfort one another in a way that nobody else could.  Being together made them stronger because they cared so much for each other.  My students come to me as broken young men and women.  I, too, am broken in so many ways.  Working together, we build on our strengths.  Though I am the adult, working with them makes me stronger and goes a long way toward healing the hurts I’ve carried for a long time.  My consistent nurturing and yes, accountability, teaches them that someone cares.  They know I’m there for them…helping them get stronger.  It’s a win-win for everyone.
  • Trust is obtained through the heart and not from what is seen.  I love the scene where Red and Seabiscuit run the track in the dark.  Red is petrified.  I’m not sure if he fully trusted the horse at this point in time; however, by leaning into him and giving in to the power of the magnificent horse below him, he learned to blindly trust.  Our insecurities often lead us to fear and causes us to put up walls that prevent us from taking relationships beyond the superficial.  Only by giving in and falling into the rhythm of another person, trusting that person not to stomp all over us, can we take the relationship to a deeper, more satisfying level.  This doesn’t mean we’ll never get hurt; however, how much do we miss out on if we never attempt to let go?

Oh, the lessons go on and on.  The brokenness in this movie abounds.  Watching the new owner, Charles Howard, heal from the tragic loss of his young son through his relationship with Red was an underlying storyline.  Howard invested so much time and patience, and in the process, Red grew into a man who was able to shake off the chip on his shoulder and the anger that accompanied it.

The trainer, Tom Smith, was a recluse who had an innate knowledge of horses and people.  He appears to have been quite humble.  My research revealed that he rarely spoke.  I wonder if this was from a sense of humility.  I believe he, too, was a broken man.

Probably the biggest lesson from this story is simply to never give up on each other.  There is so much in this life that knocks us down.  While it may seem that some people lead charmed lives, everyone has had his/her heart broken in some way…faith in God and humanity challenged.  However, we need each other.  If we were meant to live solitary lives, God would have put us on our own planets by ourselves.

He didn’t.

Thus, our jobs are to pull each other up, encourage one another, treat each other gently, and nurture each other toward the potential that each and every person possesses.

I doubt that I will ever forget this story because of the raw emotions it triggered deep within my soul.

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