Before my first day of elementary school, I had known what the expectations were: work hard, study harder. Nevertheless, when high school started, I was a nervous wreck. The idea of “everything that I did now counted towards college” made me jittery and anxious.
Freshman year of high school imprisoned my thoughts, freedom, and contentment. For those one hundred eighty days of school, plus weekends, I struggled to maintain the highest grade point average I could. I stayed up late studying daily for every test, every quiz, and every potential pop-quiz. The days went by slowly, and soon, my life became school, school, and school. Suddenly, the track team I was a part of no longer mattered, the parties my friends invited me to seemed like a waste of time, and my desire to do anything but study faded.
The last day of freshman year was the first time I had felt genuinely happy with myself. I had prided myself with getting all As in all my classes, accomplishing the 4.5 GPA I strived for. I had done it; I had satisfied my parents words telling me, “don’t try to be the best, be the best.”
Ironically, the idea of school ending gave me intense apprehension. Because I could literally not be the best in school during the summer, I had to find another way to satisfy my desire. I looked to the Cross Country team the first day summer began. Seeing as I had only made the JV team during track, I aimed to make the Varsity team for Cross Country.
The first day of practice was a couple weeks before school started. Over the summer, I had run five to eight miles every day, going from a ten-minute mile to a 6-minute mile. My previous 5K time was pathetic compared to my current twenty-one minute 5K. After telling my coach and seeing his eyes light up, the feeling that I had felt on the last day of school recurred. I had a new motivation to become the best girl on the team.
For three weeks, I ran with the team, and earned my place as third best girl on the Varsity team. It was guaranteed; I was going to make Varsity this season. Yet, the idea was not as comforting as I had imagined. As the weeks went on, I developed an aching pain in the middle of my left shin. Fearing the coaches would tell me the defeating words, “take it easy”, I refused to show my discomfort.
On the first day of sophomore year, I made a goal. This year, I decided, was going to be better than last year. I was taking two AP courses, the maximum a sophomore could take, and five other honors courses.
On the second day of sophomore year, the Cross Country team had its first meet. The gun shot off and for the first twenty feet, everyone ran in a pack. The first mile was difficult; I struggled to stay ahead of the majority of the girls in the race. The second mile, I could feel my shin cracking under my weight and the pain increasing. The third mile, I focused on the person's legs in front of me until I saw the flag. It was disappointing that there were three people ahead of me, and only twenty feet left to go. Nevertheless, I sprinted anyway to reach the finish line.
With a quick snap and stumble, I was on the ground. My leg was bent at an awkward angle and my vision blurred, but I saw that the flag just ten feet away. With as much effort as I possibly could, I tried to stand up and failed myself again. I heard another crack, but refused to give up. I needed to finish the race. It was my only validation of getting a time above twenty-one minutes. But, just as I tried to get up, I heard another crack and my vision went dark.
I woke up in a hospital bed in St. Barnabas. My parents were staring at an x-ray of a broken leg. It took a couple minutes before I realized it was mine. My doctor calmly explained that I had an oblique fracture in my left tibia, and complete recovery could take longer than six months. The tears rushed out like a waterfall, and the doctor offered me pain medication. There was no amount of pain medication that could soothe the agony of not finishing the race.
I ended up missing a month of school. The first cast painfully confined my leg from the foot to the upper thigh restricting my movement, and limited my education. At first, I believed this was the worst thing that had ever occurred to me. It was virtually impossible to keep my grades up in all my classes without going to class. Yet, almost every day, my friends came to visit and without the constant workload, I felt a balloon of air release. I had seen my friends more that month than I had the entire year last year. Strangely, the feeling I got on the last day of freshman year and the day I saw my coach’s eyes light up persisted. It was remarkably bewildering at the same time as relieving. Only now, after four months, I realized that this feeling was relaxation.
My first day back at school was awful at first. I had to drop an AP course in addition to an honors course because I was too behind to catch up. It was upsetting, and devalued my self-confidence as I discovered I was incapable of achieving what I had planned. The same feeling from before had recurred when I realized there was no way I could be the best this year. It felt unusually inspiring to learn for knowledge, rather than compete for grades. Furthermore, my coach gave me the position of Team Manager. I went to most of the meets, guiding my teammates, helping the coach, organizing races, and surprisingly, I felt genuinely satisfied with this leadership position. I was able to organize the winning race, and felt a new sense of achievement through others. I always believed achievement was getting a 4.5 GPA, or becoming the best, but in truth, achievement is so much more than doing something for yourself. Achievement is leading a team to victory.