Joining track and field for the first time in 9th grade wasn’t very good for my self esteem, especially considering the fact that I’m the type of person who compares themselves to others in every way possible. I get good grades and am fairly decent at most of my extracurriculars, such as speech and debate. Due to my competitive nature, however, I tend to limit my total amount of activities. The thought of disappointing my friends and family is the worst feeling imaginable for me. While I did have plenty of encouragement from my friends as I began my track adventure, I knew I was terrible and felt incredibly worthless, regardless of the other things I do well.
I realized how atrocious I was going to be at track on the very first day of running. Although our coach told us to “take it easy” and only go about three fourths as fast as we could, all of the other guys just took off. Going as fast as my legs would carry me, I sprinted after them. Still, I was relegated to the back of the group. Though I recognized that most of the other guys had been in track for a couple years, that didn’t stop me from comparing myself to them and feeling miserable.
These bad feelings were compounded at the first track meets I attended. My first race ever was the 400 meter dash (one lap around a typical track). This proved to be an absolutely terrible choice as it is a full out sprint. I started out almost keeping pace, but as the race went on, I fell farther and farther behind. I recall thinking, and firmly believing, that I was going to die. Luckily, I was able to pass one guy in my heat (a sub-set of runners that run at the same time) in the final 50 meters. I finished 3rd to last overall with a time of one minute and eight seconds. So while the other 9th graders were placing and getting ribbons, I was losing to the “slow” runners. Adding to my frustrations, my classmates would come back to our school’s “camp” (where we put our bags and hang out while waiting for our events) and explain how disappointed they were at getting a certain ribbon placing. I would sit and listen, wishing only that I could get a ribbon at all. Despite my best self-improvement efforts, I’ve always resented those who are better than me at anything-- even if it’s because they’ve put in more effort. This was no exception. Clearly I needed a different mindset.
After doing incredibly awful at two meets --yes, only two... I’m not very patient--I decided to change things up. I joined hurdles as I’d always thought they could be a fun event. To be honest, I have no idea how or why the senior hurdler on our team put up with me. Just as in the 400 meter dash, I was dreadful. But despite the fact, he continued to help me until he decided I was ready enough to run at a competition. I wasn’t so sure. Even though I disagreed, I ran the 300 meter intermediate hurdles at our next meet.
Before the race began I thought about some wise words from my coach. “You’re not racing anyone else out there except for yourself,” he had said. Attempting to remember this, I got into my blocks. The moment I heard the gun go off I ran as fast as I could to the first hurdle. In a moment I was upon it and then past it. More hurdles kept appearing and disappearing as I kept running. I knew I was going too high in the air over them, but I supposed it was better than tripping on them. Finally, I went over the last hurdle and finished. My coach rightly pointed out that my form was terrible. Still, he said I showed promise. Despite my abysmal overall placing (I came in almost last with a time of 53 seconds), I learned that I quite enjoyed hurdling and decided that maybe I didn’t need to win as long as I was improving myself and having some fun.
Throughout the rest of the season I continued to improve my hurdle form as well as my athleticism in general. I was able to cut my time down by a few seconds before the season ended. Although my best time was still totally and completely horrendous, I was clearly making strides in becoming a better athlete. I made sure to always keep this in mind and became far happier overall.
Even though I may just be the worst track and field athlete imaginable, track has helped me learn a truth about life. Life’s never about being the best at everything, or anything at all. It is simply about having fun and always working to be better than you were yesterday. As our coach loves to say, “You’re not racing anyone else out there except for yourself,” and that’s a good thing to keep in mind for more than just track.