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They’re all watching. Can’t mess up. Can’t look back. Keep calm, I tell myself. Breathe in and breathe out.
They cheer my name, but the sound is numb in my ears. All I can hear is the sound of my shallow breath as I struggle to intake oxygen and convert it to carbon dioxide in enough time to keep up with my pounding heart.
Can’t mess up. Can’t look back.
My hair comes out of its headband. I barely register as the hairs come down to my face. All I see is the white line of the finish line, already dirty with footsteps. I can’t see the faces past it or my coach standing with her clipboard.
Can’t mess up. Can’t look back.
The sun pounds down on my arms. My back glistening with my sweat. I feel gross at the moisture, but I push it from my mind. I only focus on my feet. Left, right, left, right. One foot in front of the other. The pounding of my feet against the pavement, the shocks from the ground shooting up my calves. My fingernails dig into my palms, my arms sagging a little more than when I started.
Can’t mess up. Can’t look back.
I taste the dryness of my mouth, and the salty sweat knocks for permission to enter at the corner of my mouth.
Can’t mess up. Can’t look back.
I smell victory. Or maybe it’s my armpits. The breeze brings the smell of pine from the woods. I smell body odor, most likely my own.
Can’t mess up. Can’t look back.
I push my whole body for one more sprint, for one more burst of adrenaline to use while dragging myself across the finish line. I think, one more second of this. One more step. One more minute. One more lap. One more. Just one more.



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