Bang! The girl in front of me took off. Her legs moving in a blur, shrinking as she raced down the track. Instinctively, I took a step forward looking to my competitors on either side of me. Don’t worry about them, focus on your race. My head felt chaotic but silent. The lights above felt like a spotlight on me and only me. I looked down the track. 55 meters. A short distance for a runner but also a daunting one. 55 meters. 10 meters to rise off the ground into the sprint. 40 meters to sprint your heart out. 5 meters to push yourself to cross the line. A race with no redemption. No second chances. One and done. One start. One finish.
A large blue mat stood at the end of the strip of the track waiting to absorb the impact of the incoming runners. Behind it was the curve of the larger track encircling us. A gun fired and a group of athletes took off in a blur of colors around the outside track orbiting around us.
Take your mark.
I knelt to the ground. One knee resting on the ground. The other pointing toward the end of the track. My fingers placed just behind the white line. The grooves in the track pushing into my hands. The line, which I had always thought was perfectly painted, quivered slightly into a curve as it tried to cover the rough track. Unlike my hands, my sneakers were grateful for the bumps in the track. They found a nice grip in it. Keeping me from falling forward.
I leaned forward picking both knees of the ground. My shoulders leaning just over the line. The crowd around me slowed down. Tucking my chin in close to my chest, I lost all view of the track ahead of me. I waited. Holding myself from anticipating the gun shot. Moving a split second early would cost me the race. Immediate disqualification.
The gun fired. I shot forward. My heart skipped a beat. Breathing again only after I had already traveled a good 5 meters. It kicked in. Run. Breath. Faster. Arm swing. Past the line. Toes. Lean forward. All the way. Don’t stop. Faster. Don’t fall behind. Pull ahead. In that same second I passed the line and the swarm of cheering teammates, crashing into the mat at the end. A man in a black uniform rushed towards me and the other racers at the mats ushering us off the track to clear us out of the way of the following heat. I walked off the track into the cluster of athletes. The full sound of the arena filling my ears. The endless chatter. The faded music and the firing of the next gun for the 55 meter dash.