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On Your Mark
The rush of adrenaline surges through me. Even though every step feels like it should be my last, though it is tedious to be able to move forward, I manage to keep going. The prize is right in front of me. I can taste it. I leap with my final surge of energy to the finish that it seems I have been waiting my whole life for. For what could possibly be mine. I leap forward. If only I can…
“Hey Katie, come here!”
I turn around to see my best friend Ashley standing there and I smile and jog over to her. Everyone is just arriving to West High School to complete our final meet of our club season, before we finally move on to high school and the cross country team there. I couldn’t be more excited.
I catch up to her, and we walk together into the school, arm in arm, and looking for the hallway were the rest of our team is, and where we will wait for the two heats of runners to finish, and then we finally get to go at it. The anticipation is so thick in the air all week at practice that we barely got anything done. We are poised to make a run for the team title this year, and we couldn’t be more excited. More importantly, all our girls are in that highly coveted final heat, and have more than one runner with a chance at gold, and I guess you could say all nine of our girls have a shot at the podium, the top ten, the chance to get recognized in front of everyone. You receive your medal in style, especially the winner. The winner is what everyone wants to be and only one girl gets the chance to experience. I’m determined to be that person. The chances of winning are pretty good for me, but they also are good for many others. There is no runaway favorite, and that makes me nervous. I’m really excited. I need to calm down, so I find a quiet corner and sit down so I can visualize. Our coaches tell us the importance of visualizing the outcome we want. It helps mentally prepare ourselves for what we are about to do, so we are also prepared mentally as well as physically. We also can start to think about how fast we want to go, and seeing ourselves doing it, so it’s easier to do since we have already done it in our minds. Sports are very much so mental as well, so I sit and start to visualize.
I fall to the ground, every inch of me pounding with exhaustion. I don’t think I can move, and I just lay on the ground, until I’m forced to a seated position as I feel hot bile force its way through my parched throat and I get sick all over the grass next to me. I cough, and more comes. I feel fine, and all I want is a cold drink. Then, I look up and as if an answer to my prayers, my parents come running towards me almost as fast as I felt during my race, carrying, thankfully, water and bearing smiles so big I’m surprised that their faces don’t break in two.
I’m so excited, and I want to visualize a win, but what if I jinx myself? I am so nervous. I calm my nerves by taking a deep breath. My eyes close. My breathing slows and I let my mind wander to what I have spent the past few hours trying to not think about. In and out, my breath is steady. I’m walking up to the starting line, and my walk is calm and confident. I’m having fun doing what I love. There is an unmatched yearning in my eyes, something no one else by me has. I get ready for the start. It comes and I’m off. My stride is long and even. I visualize almost the whole race done but a scream comes right before I see the all important end of the race. My eyes fly open and I look around to see what happened. To my shock, all I see is a crowd of people circled around one figure lying down. All I can tell is its Ashley.
“Hey, what happened?”
“I fell; I think it’s sprained,” Ashley whispers, her tear-stained face grimacing in pain, and I kneel next my best friend who is grasping her ankle like if she let go, it would fall off. She looked so vulnerable, and I felt so bad. She was going to do so well today. I look up to see another one of my teammates return with ice and a brace from the trainer. I ask, “Are you going to be okay?” I don’t want to ask if she can run.
The vulnerable face turns to one that looks more like a warrior. “I am running today. No matter what. I can do this.”
I let my parents envelop me, and I hold back tears as I let go of everything that was weighing, all the pressure of today, I let it all go; my body going limp. The race is over. I let the fact envelop me, and just want to curl up and sleep in my parents’ arms. I’m so tired. But I can’t sleep now; No time to rest because I have an awards show to get to.
“Are you sure? You don’t know what’s wrong with it. You could be really hurt and further the damage,” my mind is trying to reason with her craziness. She could be seriously hurt.
“I am running. I have worked all season for this, and I’m not stopping. You will not stop me,” she says with the authority of someone who will fight till the end.
“Ok. Fine. You need meds, to ice your ankle, put that brace on so you don’t have as much weight on that ankle, and…”
“I think you need to calm down and take a drink. Coach will help me get ready and you have to run too, ok? I’m good. Go sit. I know what to do,” she says as if I’m the one that’s hurt. Who needs to calm herself down. I am perfectly fine, and I’m about to tell her so, but I look at her sitting on the ground, wincing as ice touches swollen skin, sweat wiped from her brow, and with a frown permanent on her face, I see that she has enough to worry about. I turn around and go to find my bag. I sit down in front of it, and start to dig through it. I find what I need, and sit. I look at my watch. I still have an hour to kill. I sit. I eat. I drink. I fidget. And when I can’t stand it anymore, I go sit by Ashley. They do say laughter is the best medicine, and I believe it is. I don’t even remember what we said, but we laughed like we were listening to a star comedian. We had our whole team laughing (not sure whether it was with us or at us, but it doesn’t matter) and we got dirty looks to be quiet from other teams, but it didn’t matter. We had the most fun we’ve had in a while, and we were injured, nervous, and full of anticipation. In those moments, I felt like I was on a team, and that was the best part of the whole meet, well except for maybe the race, which was better than I ever could have imagined.
My parents pull me to my feet, and hold me like they aren’t quite sure if I am able to walk on my tired, shaking legs. I was so tired. I have already downed a water bottle and am on to the next one. We walk through the crowds, getting congratulations from some, and others have dirty looks accompanied with their smile, but I barely notice. I’m on cloud nine because I am done and am proud with how I did. Then I see Ashley, and run to her, and give her a huge hug. “You did it,” I say, letting the astonishment bleed through my voice. “No,” she says, “We both did and kicked some butt along the way.” We both laugh and start to head over to where our team is waiting for us, so we can all celebrate together.
We have ten minutes. I swear the butterflies have had quite the day multiplying within me. Everyone can attest to that. We all have our uniforms on, and our special sweat resistant clothes on underneath. Our socks are mud free and sit perfectly in our shoes with laces all but glued into place. We feel ready, but yet they make us wait those dreadful last ten minutes, which seems to be the real test, that tests your mental well being, and if you can handle it. I start out sitting to not waste energy, but then nerves had me walking around again. Drinking to quench a thirst, but not too much that we have to go to the bathroom, because the nerves make us feeling like we have to pee is enough. We are all uneasy in between sitting and having a good time and the time until the main event finally starts. We are all anxious and unable to talk. We sit by ourselves and are willing the race to start. We are ready.
Or so we think.
We are about a minute away, and without our conscious thought, our pulse races, and we try to control it. Now is when our bodies are tensing for the battle ahead, and our minds are almost ready to start to relax. There will be no more need to hold off the nerves, or the thoughts of did-I-do-enough-this-season, or I’m-so-nervous-so-I’m-going-to-suck, or plain I’m-nervous. We all got here different ways, hopefully in the way we want and hopefully with the result we want. We all know it’s time to race. We’re stepping up to the line. It’s time.
Now, I’m not going into the details of the whole race. With all those lead changes, and the suspense of the whole race and all the little moments that we look back at that we think might be the moment we messed up. It’s not worth it. I will, however, talk about the last hundred yards of a very suspenseful race.
This is when the race was at its climax and runners are trying a last ditch effort to win, and spectators are sitting in awe and in totally hopelessness. This does not, however, stop the cheers. Not that I hear them. I’m hearing my heart in my ears. My breath going in and out of my lungs at such a rate that I can barely keep up, but I do. I had run the race of my life so far. I could feel in every cell of my being that this was the fastest I had ever run, especially at a course like this. I can feel the fact that this race is almost done in every inch of my being, as my steps feel like they should drag, and come to a complete stop on the exact place that I am.
But that doesn’t happen. In fact, as almost to spite myself, I push harder; go even faster in what is a very close field. There are at least 5 or 6 girls within a foot of me as we round the last bend, a short sprint to the end. We are the front pack. We have been neck and neck the whole time. And I know how fast they are all are, what amazing runners they are, and I know that we all have a shot at winning. This race would come down to the final few feet.
I could feel myself pulling away a little bit, but this is a close race, and close to the end. I was, however, just steps ahead. I could tell, however, that there was one other girl right alongside me. She had been right next to me the whole entire time, but I couldn’t look to recognize her. She was never far enough in front of me or far behind me. She was always constant by my side. I could sense her there now, and it would be a comforting thing to have someone beside you the whole time, if this weren’t the biggest race so far in my life.
This girl was the only thing in my way. We were neck and neck; it seemed every step was perfectly choreographed together. You could not plan a more perfect stride to be side by side. It would have been perfect, but there was a little pause in every one of her strides, before she goes to the next, and then we synchronize again. It was weird, but we came to the finish line. It was close. It was a photo finish down to the last step.
I got second. I was bummed, yes, but I got second! That’s a great accomplishment, and I can’t complain with my place. Especially when I know how much the person who did win deserves it.
Some perform best under pressure. Some shine on a small stage, where there are no expectations weighing on their shoulders. This was the perfect mix of both.
Who would have put the pressure on someone with a sprained ankle to win? No one in their right mind would. There are no expectations for that. On the other hand, it was the biggest meet of the season.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Ashley won. As a best friend there is no greater accomplishment, other than doing it yourself, but to go one two is the greatest feeling. Standing on the podium next to each other, sure I wanted to be on the top step, but I was happy, especially as Ashley pulled me up next to her on the top step. It was the perfect moment that I will never forget as long as I live. I have my best friend beside me at one of the moments I can be the most proud about. There isn’t a greater feeling. It was perfect; a story book ending to an amazing day.