The Sun Beats Down

December 21, 2007
By Kathleen Reising, Evansville, IN

The sun beats down; the track feels hotter than ever. Humidity makes the air feel heavy and damp. The runners line up at the starting blocks; their jerseys fixed against their moist backs as each girl knowingly awaits that glorious moment when her back is the only thing the other runners see. Kara’s feet press firmly against the blocks, her hands resting ever so slightly on the white line in front of her. The gun sounds, and she takes off down the two-hundred meter stretch of track. Her feet move quickly, almost as if by some power other than her own. Images of her mother fly through her head as she makes her way across the finish line- first place by a landslide.

“Great race, sport,” her dad says as Kara grabs her bag.

“Thanks, Dad. Competition was tough,” Kara jokes. Kara Hart, standing only 5’1” and weighing only 102 pounds, holds the title as the best high school runner in the city without a doubt. She is an up and coming freshman and already holds all records previously set by runners from all grades at Forest Hills High School. Kara hopes to leave her mark behind when she graduates, as a running legacy, just as her mother once was.

It happened on June 2, around 9:30 in the morning. Lynn Hart stretched as she normally did, concentrating on her irritated hamstring. She focused on the few upcoming miles that soon awaited her. She stood up from the ground and pulled her ankle to her hip. She held her position for a few moments before whistles signaled the start of the race. Lynn wandered toward the starting line, careful not to allow anxiety to overpower her. She glanced to her left and then to her right. Women lined up as far down the line as she could see. A single blast from the gun and off they went. Everything happened so quickly. Lynn suddenly collapsed almost an hour into the race. Officials ran to her aid and called for help. Ambulances and rescue vehicles arrived within minutes and rushed Lynn to the nearest hospital, her husband Kevin at her side. Doctors worked long and hard to resuscitate her. She never came back into consciousness. Kevin sat restlessly in the waiting room, waiting for his daughter to arrive from school. Lynn’s doctor walked slowly towards Kevin and sat down next to him. He then delivered to Kevin the most heart wrenching news he would ever hear. Lynn passed away of a sudden heart condition due to her excessive running and constant stress on her heart. Moments later, Kara arrived at the hospital with a close family friend. Kevin grabbed Kara, held her close, and cried. Kara’s heart sank as her father delivered the news of her mother’s unexpected death. She felt completely responsible and believed it was her fault. If Kara had not trained with her mom and pushed her to run in the marathon, she might still be alive.

Kara walked in the front door and tossed her backpack aside. The house felt amazing compared to the ninety-degree weather outside. Her dad sat quietly on the couch beside a man Kara did not recognize. The man seemed well-dressed, and pretty young; Kara guessed early 30’s. He stood up and reached out his hand.

“Hi, I’m Peter Howell. I’m head coach of the Women’s Olympic Development Program. I was just telling your dad here that it would be an honor to have you join us next summer up in Boston. A few of the coaches, myself included, have been watching you for quite some time. You seem to be quite the runner,” the man stated.

Kara listened dumbfounded. She did not believe Peter Howell was sitting in her living talking to her family. “Are you serious? I mean, how?” Kara struggled to find the right words.

“Well, it’s actually pretty ironic. Some time ago, we were looking to recruit your mom into the program. She was a natural, that one. Anyways, you mom decided the Olympic Program wasn’t for her, and she turned us down for unknown reasons. But when I saw your name recently in the sports section of the newspaper, I just knew you had to be related to Lynn. And I’m terribly sorry to hear about your mom’s recent death, Kara. She was a terrific woman,” Peter added.

“Yeah, she really was. She never told me that story though. I never knew she turned down an offer to join ODP,” Kara said. Kara gazed into space and pondered her mother’s reasons for her refusal. Why would she give up something so big?

“Well, thank you for stopping by, Mr. Howell. We’ll talk this over and get back to you soon,” Kevin declared as he motioned Peter towards the door. Peter waved goodbye as he climbed in his car, a new black BMW.

“What’s the hurry, Dad?” Kara asked as Kevin closed the front door and walked back into the living room. “I can’t believe it! I actually got asked to be a member of ODP! I have to go call Nicole and let her know,” Kara exclaimed as she jumped up off the couch.

“Hold on a second there, sport. We need to talk about this,” Kevin said. “You know how proud I am of you and of how well you’ve been doing. You’re a natural, just like your mother. The thing is, this Olympic Development is some pretty serious business, as well as very risky. I’m not so sure you’re up to handling this just yet, Kara,” her dad affirmed as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him.

“Dad, I’m not Mom.” Kara looked straight into his eyes, and for once, he did not know what she was thinking. If there was one thing she got from her mother, it was undeniably her stubbornness. Once she wanted something, she did not give up until she achieved it. “Why can’t you just let me do what I wanna do? You don’t always need to try to protect me, Dad.” Kara quickly got up and ran outside. She ran for over a mile and finally stopped in the nearby park. She laid there in the shade of the enormous oak tree, the grass cool against her skin. She slowly began to catch her breath as she took in the air, slower and slower each time. The sun beamed down without a cloud in the sky to block its powerful rays. Wisps of hair flew across her face as the wind caught them in a single gust. The cool breeze abruptly calmed to nearly nothing at all. Kara felt the trickle of sweat on the back of her neck as the heat begins to settle in. As she lay there, she thought of her mom and all the times they spent running through that same park. Her dream, as well as her mother’s dream, was essentially being handed to her, and she only sat back and waited as her dad tried to take it away.

Kevin sat in silence as he thought about Kara and about her future. He knew she held the potential to be a great runner, even an Olympic runner. That idea went without question. Kevin questioned his reasoning for holding Kara back. How could he handle something going wrong with Kara after what happened to Lynn? Kevin decided now was a good time to find out the truth; the truth that held the answers to Kara’s future. Kevin called the hospital and arranged for an appointment the following morning. Tomorrow they would finally get the answers they avoided for so long- the dreaded possibility that Kara inherited the fatal heart condition from her mother. Kevin waited silently for Kara to return home; to return as her usual happy self with a smile that seemed to never leave her face; that same smile that he may never be blessed with after a simple test the following morning.

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