“The ‘Little Horse’ Who Also Ran,” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 88
A champion is one who does the best he can, and a little bit more.” So went the poem I heard recited in stake conference.
My first reaction was that the idea was splendid, but a little impractical. Too few of us are endowed with the qualities needed to make a champion. My second thought was that the whole idea was wrong. The best one can do is an ultimate. He could have done a little bit more only if he hadn’t done his best on his first try. I was surprised at how strongly I resisted the idea that everyone should be a champion, and found my thoughts crystallizing into a poem:
Instinctively we strive to win—
No matter what the race,
A still small voice within us says,
“Don’t slacken off the pace.”
Not all of us can come in first,
There must be also-rans.
He wins a special vict’ry though,
Who does the best he can.
And when it’s run, the question’s posed,
Who really won the race,
He who did the best he could,
Or he who took first place?
I recited my poem to a colleague, who corroborated its truth by telling me this story:
“When I was a freshman in college, I had a classmate named Pete Cavallo, who wanted nothing more than to earn a letter in athletics. The trouble was he was too little. Barely five feet tall and weighing scarcely more than a hundred pounds, he hardly met the physical requirements of competitive sports. Nevertheless, he elected to try cross-country running. Evidently he thought that even a little horse (Cavallo, you know, means ‘horse’) might excel in the long run.
“In those days the cross-country runners came up over a hill, down into the stadium, and around the track to the finish line, just after the other events were over and before the spectators had left.
“Little Pete Cavallo ran hard, but he was outclassed from the start. He finished the race, but only long after the last spectator had left the stadium. The next year he did a little better, and by the third year he had improved so much that he came in while there were still some spectators.
“So it was that in his fourth and last year his name was heard frequently in the stadium: ‘Sure do wish those little Cavallo legs could make it this year!’ But nobody really thought they would.
“Nevertheless, when the other events were over, there was an aura of expectancy and hope about the stadium. All eyes were on the hill, hoping to see little Pete Cavallo come up first. When one of those big, longlegged runners came into view, a great sigh of disappointment, as of a slowly deflating balloon, escaped the crowd. Dejectedly, the spectators began to leave.
“But suddenly, there was little Pete driving up over the hill. The stadium became pandemonium. Everyone was shouting, ‘Come on, Pete; come on, little horse!’ For the moment, the winner was forgotten. It was as if little Pete Cavallo had come in first. And in a sense, perhaps he really was the winner, because some 40 years later I still remember him, but l have forgotten the name of the runner who took first place.”
Though Pete Cavallo won the hearts of his classmates, he was just an also-ran. His name was not entered among the winners. He was not officially acknowledged in any record book. But in a larger sense, was he not the real winner and true champion, not because he did the impossible “little bit more,” but because he persisted in doing the best he could?
George T. Johannesen, Sr.
Kalamazoo Ward, Lansing Michigan Stake