The Underdog

May 4, 2017
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I woke up exceptionally early this morning, nervous for the important day ahead of me. I even slept in my uniform last night, excited for what was to come. Today is the day to prove myself. It’s the metropolitan district championships, and everyone is here—Chapelle, John Curtis, Dominican, and Sacred Heart. I had just recently started running two months ago. My dad told me I had the potential to become a great runner, but I never thought I would be that talented. My coach never thought I had the capability, and I started to believe him. Today is the day to prove that my dad is right. I just might have great potential!

The sun still isn’t up as my mom drives me to City Park’s cross-country course. I look around to find my teammates, but Coach Keiser is the only person here. The bright headlights on my mom’s Honda Pilot are my only way to see where my tent has been set up. I sit down and lace up my tennis shoes. I try to lay down, but my heart’s incessant racing makes my body not able to sit still. I smell the scent of freshly mowed grass and my heart skips six extra beats. My team has finally showed up, which means my big event is about to begin. Right before I start warming up with the team, Coach Keiser comes up to me and says, “Let’s go Michael Phelps.” I look at my coach, just shaking my head (I don’t talk before a race). I take off my black Adidas pants and orange Nike jacket and start warming up. Today’s my last three-mile race of the season. I’ve ran this distance before, but for some reason I feel different. Why are all of my other teammates calm and prepared and I’m having a mini heart attack? I look up to hear Coach Keiser yell, “Girls y’all better get to the starting line. The race is starting soon.”

I panic, but I look over to my dad, who gives me a little nod that I know means, “You can do this.” I ease up a little, knowing I have one person who thinks I can do well, and run over towards the rest of my team. They’re already in a huddle, waiting for me. I sneak into the huddle and we start our cheer. The energy that we had built up waiting for this day has surfaced. I’m starting to sweat, and I swear the rest of my team can hear my heart pounding. I’m excited, I want to run, but I’m also so nervous. “Give us fire in our hearts and wings on our feet,” my teammates exclaim. The cheers over, and the race is about to start. The announcer comes out with his big, red microphone, and my heart beats ten times faster. I just want this race to be done already. Right before he starts the race, the announcer says, “The race is about to begin. Top ten get a t-shirt, while top five get a t-shirt and a bag.”

I think of my dad, my coach, and of myself; they would be so proud of me if I were to win, and I would be happy enough to win a bag. The idea of being in the top five is now stuck in my brain. The hunt is on; I will win this race. I hear the vibrating noise of a gun go off and I know the race has started. I begin at a normal pace; not too fast, not too slow. I see many girls flying off in front of me and think, “Well, I’m sure not getting top ten now.” My positivity and determination starts to decrease, but about a mile in, my luck starts to change. I’m now nipping at the heels of the girls that were so painfully far in front of me. I take this comeback as my chance to start running faster. At this point, I’m feeling good; I’m not fully out of breath yet and I have a good position in the race. I’m starting to feel more confident in myself. I make my way through the wooded area of City Park’s cross country course, not spending time to look at the beautiful pond that runs along the course in the woods. I pull out of the greenery into a vast open field where I make my way around a big tree. “You can do this Maria!” my mom yells a few feet in front of me. When I look further ahead of me, I see two of my teammates who are only thirty meters or so in front of me. I make a vow I will pass them up. As I start pushing myself harder, I can feel my legs tightening up. I push through the pain and am now running neck and neck with my two teammates. I have reached the two-mile mark now. There’s only one more mile to go, but my legs are hurting and I’m tired and out of breath. I’m starting to give up my lead when I see my dad clapping for me to go on. I’ve never seen him look so proud of me. I decide that I need to do well, not just for him but for myself too. Eight hundred meters to go. I hear Coach Keiser yell, “Let’s go Maria! Half a mile left! You can do this! Push yourself!” I’m only one person behind fifth place. With sweat dripping down my face and the wind trying to push me back, I sprint faster than I ever have before. I pass a girl who was struggling to run the few meters more she had to go. There I am, top five, but I’m not done just yet. There’s another girl not too far in front of me. I catch up with her, and just at the last moment, I pass her up. I cross the finish line in fourth place with a time of twenty-two thirty, my best yet. My legs are killing me, and my lungs burn. As I am trying to catch my breath that is long gone, Coach Keiser comes up to me with the biggest smile on his face. I’ve never seen him more proud of me. “You did amazing! Honestly, you came out of nowhere! You completely amazed me!” he said.

I’m so shocked! I truly came in top five! In the beginning, I never genuinely had the confidence to believe that I could do something incredible. Running this race has made me realize that I can do anything I put my mind to. As long as I put in the hard work, effort, and confidence that I used today, I can achieve any goal I set for myself. This race has given me the confidence I needed. I just proved that I am the runner my dad believed I was.

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