Running in the Rain

August 27, 2009
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Everything was wet. Cold too, judging by the way the girls on the track team were shivering violently. Nevertheless, they slipped and shivered their way onto the muddy field so they could be closer to the track. No one wanted to miss the moment for which the Great Neck South Girls’ Track team had been waiting for decades.

“It’s so wet, I feel like I’m at a swim meet, not a track meet,” said freshman Lindsay Charlop. “Still, it’s worth it to be here, even if I have to swim.”

“You can do it,” the girls told the 4x400 relay team cheerfully, “We’re going to beat Hewlett this time.” The relay team members nodded absentmindedly, stealing glances at their drenched, but determined, opponents.

Their opponents, Hewlett, were probably being told the same thing by their own teammates, except they said “again” instead of “this time.”
The fact that they even had to be reassured, however, was already a victory for the GNS team. For as long as anyone could remember, Great Neck South Girls’ Track was never the team to beat. In fact, it barely registered as a blip on the radar screen of powerhouse teams like Hewlett.
Coach Hudson (affectionately referred to as “Huddy” by the girls) had changed all that though, when he took over coaching the girls’ track team at the beginning of this year. Now, two meets into the spring season, he watched sophomore Kimberly Chen take her place at the start and gave her a reassuring nod.
“We have to sweep all three relays to win this meet,” Coach Hudson had told his team grimly just a few moments before. “We came into this meet down thirteen points because we didn’t have pole vaulters, and now we’ve made it up. But we have to clinch all three relays to defeat Hewlett.”
BANG. The starting gun went off and Kim Chen lunged forward.
Last year, Kim’s first year on the track team, GNS had been “steam-rollered” by Hewlett. In fact, they had been “stream-rollered” by just about everyone, just as they had been, just about every year for the past two decades.

Things had changed, however. Kim was holding her own in the race, keeping GNS’s first victory over Hewlett in 20 years within reach.

On the sidelines, her teammates were yelling themselves hoarse, so thrilled were they at the prospect of a victory. It was only the second meet of the season, but with one unexpected win already under their belt, they could soon be on their way to an undefeated season.

The thought of an undefeated season would’ve seemed laughable last year, but as Kim finished neck and neck with her competitors and handed off the baton to junior Rachel Gecelter, the idea seemed almost as tangible as the drenching rain.

Rachel had seen even more of GNS’s defeats than Kim, as this was her third year on the track team, but she seemed utterly unphased by the teams’ dramatic transition from dregs-of-the-league to top-of-the-league.

It was as if she and other older members of the team had simply been waiting for the change to happen, for Coach Hudson and his assistant coach, Ms. Spica, to waltz in and overhaul the team.

Despite being newer to the team than many of his athletes, Coach Hudson seemed completely at-ease from the beginning, never missing a beat or appearing flustered. His cool, easy-going countenance did not lend itself to flashy shows of determination or pride. Rather, it took the form of an encouraging smile or a low, firm “Let’s go Rachel!” He always spoke in a voice barely louder than a whisper, yet his words had a greater impact than if he had shouted them.

Rachel began running faster when she heard his unmistakable voice and her teammates cheers, sprinting the last 100 meters at top speed. It was clear from her tortured expression that she was killing herself to outstrip her opponent, but as the GNS girls learned the hard way, you have to push yourself to get better.

Whatever pain she had evaporated when she handed the baton to sophomore Rebecca Toy and stepped onto the field, breathing hard but smiling. She joined the crowd of cheering teammates under their colorful canopy of umbrellas and blankets which dominated the field. There were a few other teams present at the meet, but they faded into the background; Great Neck South was concerned only with its own athletes and its own record.
The team was running to beat itself.
Rebecca Toy certainly looked as if each of her feet were in a race against each other. They flew off the surface of the track in an ongoing battle to go forward, faster.
A fissure was opening up between Rebecca and her opponent. The fissure had started developing before it could be detected, and now it was widening.
The cheers of the Hewlett team suddenly seemed to burst into GNS’s collective consciousness. Instantly, they were acutely of how very badly both sides wanted to win, and how only one could. It was a pattern that would be repeated again and again, each time the team was reminded how far it had come, and how close it was to bringing the transformation full circle.
“You mean other teams are actually concerned about beating us?” sophomore Sarah Sherman asked incredulously when Coach Hudson described “the giant target strapped to our backs.” Sometimes the GNS girls seemed even more surprised by their own success than their competitors were.
For once, however, the girls were more determined than shocked as they encouraged Rebecca to gain some of the lost ground in the last stretch of her leg. She passed the baton to Taylor Williams, a freshman, who took off after her opponent like her life depended on it.
Taylor Williams, being the fastest 400 runner on the team, carried a heavy burden with her as she ran: her teammates’ reliance.
Her teammates made sure she didn’t carry the burden alone, though. They cheered until they sounded like they had larangitis, and then they started dancing when they couldn’t make a sound anymore. Time and time again, the girls would come together to support one another, each investing as much energy cheering for her teammates’ races as she would use to run her own.
By the time Taylor reached the halfway point in her leg of the race, it looked like she might close the gap. It looked the same way before the league championship later in the season, when GNS was poised to take first place, having previously defeated every other team in attendance at a regular meet.
Taylor was still gaining on her opponent as she approached the last 100 meters. The scores were close at the League Championship, as GNS struggled to pull away from the competition.
The entire track team, having already come a long way—just like the 4x400 relay team and just like Taylor—was about to complete their transformation when they reached a stalemate.
Taylor’s opponent picked up her speed, maintaining what was left of the gap. Calhoun and Valley Stream Central nudged Great Neck South out of first place at the League Championship. So close, and yet not quite.
But no one saw it as a loss.
Two teammates huddled in a flannel blanket came running toward the relay team at the Hewlett meet, their blanket billowing behind them in a gust of wind. They wrapped themselves around the dripping 4x400 team, blanket and all. “We still love you! You did an amazing job!” the rest of the team assured them.
But who needed reassuring? By the end of the season, the senior runners, who had witnessed four years worth of incredible transformation, were beside themselves, professing their love for the team and their best wishes for the future.
None were so happy as Coach Hudson, though. He seemed fit to burst with a kind of quiet pride in the team he built. His excitement for next year, and the improvements it would bring was evident too in what he said.
Certainly, he had many great things to say about the team’s progress this season, but what pleased him most was looking ahead.
"I am so proud of you all. We have come so far, but this is not the end [...] My only regret is that those of you who are seniors will not get to be here next year. Next year, next year we will take first," he said. "This is only the beginning."
Not bad for being “only the beginning.”

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i eat pie said...
Sept. 29, 2009 at 3:05 pm
i could feel the rain falling on my head and the splashing of it on the ground to mr legs. i could also see the girls running and heard teeth chattering as they won
beastwilson said...
Sept. 29, 2009 at 9:34 am
cool your team got good u should be proud!
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