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“Welcome, boys and girls, to the Starved Rock Conference. Are you what it takes to go to state?” calls the speaker man through the intercom.
I stroll past the concession stand. The reek of stale popcorn flows through my nostrils. I can feel my mouth starting to water. I jerk my head back and forth to snap out of that state of mind. This is no time to think about food.
Four hundred meter medley is my first event. My relay team and I breeze through this. Second place. Better than fourth place. We don’t care. One hundred meter hurdles is my second and last event. Am I what it takes? Yes I am. This thought runs through my head over and over again as I step up to the starting line. I don’t dare cross that line until I hear that gunshot ring. My breathing begins to pick up pace, steady like a metronome. I don’t dare break my cool.
“Hey, what’s your best time?”
I look over and I see this tall, chubby, kind of homely- looking girl standing beside me with questioning eyes. I wonder if I look intimidating to her. If not, she wouldn’t have asked, would she?
“Nineteen seconds even,” I reply.
“Oh, mine is seventeen seconds even,” The girl answers. It takes everything that I was made of not to smack that smirk off her face. She is clearly trying to rub it in. I had been completely honest with her, but she doesn’t look like she could run one hundred meter hurdles in seventeen seconds.
“First or second place, Lindsey,” a girl on my team yells. “First or second place, and you go to state.”
There was no excitement or encouragement in that statement. She makes me nervous. I start to feel the sweat dribble down my forehead.
“Are you ready, girls?” the man with the gun asks all six of us.
We just look at him, line up, mark our fingers at the edge of the starting line, and get ready.
“Good luck,” the girl says. I just look at her. Who does she think she is? It must be a technique she uses to make her opponents nervous. I don’t care, I’m not ruining this.
“Bang!” That’s the gunshot; I sprint as fast as I can.
One hurdle, two hurdle, three hurdle, four. Almost half way done, you can do this.
“Tap. Tap. Tap.” I look to my left. Can’t that girl lift her leg up a little bit more? She’s hitting every hurdle.
Black. I look to my right, and all I see are feet trampling past my face. I shield my head with my arms. Once all the feet pass, I roll over to my bottom and try to stand, but collapse. The pain in my right knee is excruciating. What had just happened? The sounds of my failure ring through my brain like a broken record. I look up, and all I see is gaping mouths and blank stares. At that moment it was starting to sink in as to what exactly had just happened. So much for eighth grade track and field state qualification, I blew it. I glance down at my hands and knees and watch as blood trickles down to my ankle. I feel a soft hand rest upon my shoulder.
“Are you okay?” a woman with blonde hair and sympathetic eyes asks me.
“I’m not sure,” I reply.
“That was quite a fall you had there. Can you walk?”
“I don’t think so.”
The woman calls behind her, and two dark figures jog closer. I shield my eyes from the sun in order to see their faces. They’re high school boys. Way out of my league.
“Every girl’s dream, being carried away by cute boys,” the woman says, kneeling beside me. I laugh, but I can’t help but feel the blood pumping through my cheeks. I’m sure my face is turning to the equivalent shade of a cherry. The temperature inside my head must be well over one hundred degrees. I am utterly embarrassed. Who in the history of track and field does this happen to? I look to the crowd again; everyone is staring.
“I don’t think anything is broken, honey. You’ll be just fine,” the woman says.
I nod, and in one beat of my slightly trembling heart, the one boy wraps his arm around my back and the other at my knees. He slowly picks me up. I look at his face. He gives me a smile and asks me if I’m all right. I say yes, and he and his friend usher me to where my team was seated. The boy sets me down, and he and his friend walk off. My team and I watch in silence as they get farther into the distance. I look at my friend. I know she is going to say something.
“Who was that?” she asks.
“Oh, he’s just the kid that picked me up after my horrific spill,” I reply.
“He’s so cute!” she exclaims. “You are so lucky.”
I just smile. I don’t think I was so lucky. I get some ice packs and wrap them around my knee. I don’t know what has happened to my knee specifically. All I really know is that it hurts really badly. I sit in that very spot for a long time. I limp around a little after but sit back down and rest. I have to sit there while everyone does their events. I feel out of place and embarrassed, sitting there all by my lonesome self. Finally my team boards the bus again to take us back home. No one says anything about me falling. In fact, no one says anything to me at all. I feel like I let them down. Coach hands me a shiny pink ribbon. Wow, I got a ribbon for embarrassing myself in front of hundreds of people. What an accomplishment, I think. SIXTH PLACE, it reads, in big bold letters across the bottom. I study the long, gold string that holds it and the card on it that holds my name. I don’t want it. It is a token of my failure. I hate the ribbon. The whole way home is white noise for me. I am left to be tortured by my own thoughts, locked inside of my own head. All I can think of is that moment I saw black. I was caught off guard. I should have been paying more attention. The whole team was counting on me and I blew it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been the only eighth grade girl hurdler. I have never been so humiliated. I can’t get myself to accept that I face planted in front of hundreds of people. I was so embarrassed when people I didn’t even know offered to carry me when they saw me limping around an hour later. I honestly don’t think I have ever been so mad at myself in my entire life. Whenever I think about it I get this weird feeling in my stomach. It makes me feel sick. But I have come to the conclusion that the hurdles were overlapped since the audience set them up. I think the girl’s hurdle was behind mine, and when she kept tapping it with her foot, mine moved, and it made me fall. I later knew, after going to the doctor, that my knee had come out of place, literally dislocated. The doctor said that I was lucky I was walking after an hour. I wish I could re-live that day. I guess it’s just something I’m going to have to get over though. Life is life, and there’s nothing I can do to change that now. I’m still mad at myself even though it’s not my fault. I wonder all the time where I would be now if that hadn’t happened. Maybe I would have a nice, shiny state trophy in my room instead of a pink ribbon. Maybe I might have been part of the cross country or track and field team or maybe even the volleyball or basketball teams at my school right now if I hadn’t given up on sports after this incident. I’m not sure about anything that happened that day, really. All I’m sure about is that I wish it had never happened. Maybe it could have changed my life, maybe not. I’ll never know.