I sat down starting at the clouds. The sun beamed down angrily in my spot, seeming to be only upset with me as the other kids ran around in the grass not bothered by the heat. My fingers traced along the dirt, making little pictures. I didn’t know what I was making – maybe an imaginary friend to cover up for friends I never had.
Sadly, I watched as all the other kids had fun. I didn’t know what fun was though – not for a long time, anyway. But that must have been a good definition of fun.
“Maddie, get the ball!” Daniel yelled.
My eyes scrutinized every movement of Maddie’s swift legs as she sprinted to capture the ball. The others ran after her, struggling to catch up. I would be so glad to be Maddie. I would be the fastest girl on the planet, soaring like a free bird across the ground and feeling the wind rush into my face – or I would be more of a cheetah, actually. It would be so nice to run across the grass with the other kids or with anyone.
I turned away, feeling my eyes start to burn. I realized watching those kids I will never be like was an imprudent practice.
Stop wishing for something you know you’ll never have, I told myself.
I wheeled away from the sidewalk back to the small white building.
“Hey, Erica!” I heard someone yell. I recognized the familiar voice of Samuel. He was, in my opinion, one of the less kind people in the class.
“Did you want to compete with us in a race?”
I perked up and a rush of excitement filled me. Me? I thought. They were actually considering me to play with them!
I smiled slowly. “Yes,” I said quietly.
He stood in front of me grinning. I started to become suspicious. He always wore that grin – it was a mischievous sign.
“Oh, wait, oops,” he said. “I forgot – you can’t run or even walk! What was I thinking?” He looked at me and laughed. I heard laughter explode from the others in the back.
The little bit of excitement I once had just quickly diffused like a balloon dispersing out air. I clasped my hands together and the excitement was replaced with anger.
“Come on, Samuel,” Maddie said with sympathy. “Don’t be like that.”
“Fine, she can race us with that wheelchair of hers,” he replied sourly.
I wheeled to the tree – the starting line. “Ready…Set…Go, Erica!!” Daniel yelled.
I smiled a little as I moved my arms rapidly. Come on, faster, faster FASTER! I heard the others huffing and sprinting beside me. My arms ached as they repeated in circular motion over and over again. Then, I stared in dismay ahead of me…everyone was standing at the finish line.
Slowly, I wheeled forward. “Losers out!” someone yelled.
“Agreed,” Samuel smirked.
“That’s not fair,” my angry voice came out squeaky and pathetic.
“Don’t be a sore loser,” Samuel said. I could see the cruelty swimming in those green sea color eyes.
“Did you actually expect to win?” He looked at me and snickered. More giggles and senseless laughter followed.
But I was weak and I was vulnerable. So, I let them laugh at me and say painful things. I wheeled away as the school bell rang simultaneously.
At dismissal, I put all my papers in my backpack and let it sit on my lap. I let everyone pass me as they got in line. The person in the wheelchair always waits for everyone else - realized it as a silent rule.
“Erica!” I recognized the familiar voice of my coach, Mr. Haden.
“Hi,” I gave him a small smile.
“Hey,” he patted me on the back. “Eric, turn that frown upside down!”
My frown deepened. Oh, I thought I was smiling?
“How was school?” he asked.
“How are your friends?”
What friends? “Fine.”
“I’m doing phenomenal.” The sarcasm curled out of my mouth before I could stop it. Coach Haden frowned at me.
“Come on, Erica,” he said. “I know it’s more than that; I’ve been watching you and your peers.”
I bit my lip. “I have to go.”
“Do you want me to run with me for a few months?”
I glared at him and found it hard to breathe as I became furious. Run? Was he trying to be funny?” I could find the lump in my throat and my eyes burning as it all came too soon.
“Clearly, you don’t understand,” Coach Haden chuckled. “Here, follow me – I’ll show you.”
My inner self told be ‘No!’ on first instinct, but I followed, anyway.
“Look,” he said as he rummaged through the pickup truck. “Look at what I’ve got.”
I frowned. What are these? Large black object that curved at the bottom…
“Know anything about the Paralympics, huh?”
“Oh, yeah!” I said, breathlessly. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. “Carbon running blades – no way!”
“Here, come try these on,” he replied. “They cost a lot of money; I don’t want them to go to waste.”
They fit me, surprisingly and awkwardly after he helped me out of my wheelchair. I wobbled on the ground as I gripped his arm.
“Steady…” It was like riding a bike for the first time, well – when I had legs, of course. After too long, it seemed like hours, I could walk in them.
“You’re like a baby taking it’s first steps!” Coach Haden laughed. Though, I laughed with - and even harder.
A month later, my Coach saw steady improvement. Every day after school, it was a pure bliss to get out of my confined wheelchair and sprang through the air – what I’ve always yearned for.
“Hey, Erica,” someone called out. The voice belonged to Daniel. “Want to race?”
“Sure, why not?” I said slowly.
“You – you’re going to race?” Samuel howled with laughter. I ignored him as I grabbed the carbon running blades out of my backpack.
As I took them out, I could feel the eyes staring at me and I did my best to take no notice while I clasped them on the stumps that used to be part of my legs.
“Uh,” Maddie said, uncomfortable. “We’ll give you a head start.”
“No, it’s ok – I don’t need it.”
“On your Mark…Get set…Go!”
I started out slowly, my head bent like Coach Haden told me too. All I could see was a blurry vision as I sprinted. As I ran and ran, I wasn’t a bird or a cheetah – I was something better. A creature with no boundaries, no limit, nothing. I was unstoppable as I sprinted with ultimate freedom.
“I won!” Maddie said and then she stared in shock at me.
I shrugged. “Guess it was a tie.”
“Losers out!” Someone yelled.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” Samuel shouted.
“Oh, come on,” I grinned pleasurably. “Don’t be a sore loser.”