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The Good Race

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Blue ribbons have lined the wall of my bedroom for as long as I can remember. Each one represents a different swimming race that I’ve won, but one stands out from the rest. The single red ribbon that I earned as a child represents one of the most meaningful races of my life.

It was the night of the championship swim meet and the stands were packed with camera toting parents. I was calm as I snapped my cap into place. I had already won two races and only had one left. The 50 backstroke, not my favorite, but I still had the fastest time landing me in lane 4. I sat drinking my blue Powerade slush, playing UNO with my friends, and waiting anxiously.

The coach yelled at us to line up. I laughed with my friends as I grabbed my goggles and jumped from under the team tarp. I could just imagine everyone saying “good job” as I walked out carrying the high point trophy with three gold medals clanging on my chest.

I sat in the wet, metal chair behind lane 4 and that’s when I saw her. The tall, skinny, broad-shouldered girl in lane 5. Where did she come from? I filed through my brain trying to remember seeing her at any of the dual meets. All of a sudden I was nervous. She looked fast. Really fast. “Heat 5, girl’s 50 yard backstroke. Please hop in the water.” We smiled at each other as we adjusted our goggles and jumped in the water. I grabbed the block with all my strength and leaned forward. ”BEEEEP!” I shot out like a bullet. Pull, pull, kick, pull, pull. I felt the rhythm; I felt my heart pounding and my muscles burning, and I felt alone. I stayed in the lead the whole race and as I neared the finish I felt a surge of relief. Should I take one more stroke? I stretched my arm out behind me and felt nothing. Wait, where was the wall? I reached out and kicked as hard as I could. And then it happened; the girl in lane 5 out touched me. I heard people gasp as I saw her out of the corner of my eye. I threw off my cap and goggles and dunked under the water trying to hide my tears. There went the gold medal, the trophy, the whole summer. It felt like my arm weighed a ton as I reached over the lane line to congratulate her. She smiled sweetly and said, “Good race.”

It was a good race, a hard race, probably one of the most important of my young life. I learned that “it’s not over until it’s over”, “endure to the end” and all those other clichés actually meant something. After all of my victories, the race I learned the most from was the one I lost, and that made it a good race.





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