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The Best Moment This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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      Standing to the left of the starting line, I wait impatiently for the race. It’s just a race, I’ve done this hundreds of times, I remind myself, but my stomach won’t stop turning and my legs already feel like liquid, as if all the strength has drained out of them. Looking to my right, I see a never-ending row of girls, waiting to run toward the same finish line as I am. Oh, boy.

My dad comes up behind me and when I turn, I see tears in his eyes. He is so proud of me, and I know then that no matter how I do, he’ll be there when it’s over. He gives me a big hug and I can feel that he is even more nervous than I am.

“Good luck,” he whispers; he can’t say it too loud or his voice will crack. That’s when I lose it. Great. Now I’m crying.

Looking over his shoulder, I see my mom. She’s waiting for her turn to hug me. The sides of her cheeks are damp, which only makes it worse for me. I’m about to break down and the race is due to begin in five minutes. I shoo them away, telling them it’s hard enough without me crying, and that lightens the mood. At least I made them smile.

Feeling more nervous than before, I get back to my spot and wait for the officials to announce that it’s time for us to remove our sweats. I dread this moment, not only because the wind is fierce enough to knock me over, but also because it means the race is about to begin.

Thinking that this dreadful task is coming too soon, I turn to see my coach heading over. He looks excited and so upbeat that my stomach does a somersault. What if I let him down?

Coach Vincent explains the strategy to me: Don’t run straight ahead; go to the side and head toward the trees; try not to get boxed in; start out fast and stay toward the front. It’s all stuff I’ve heard before, but for some reason this time it just seems much more complicated.

With one more good-luck pat on the back, Mr. Vincent is gone and I’m left alone with my nerves. Then comes the dreadful shout, “Runners, please remove your sweats!”

Peeling off layers of clothing, I feel the cold creep into my skin. Standing there in just a tank top and shorts over Under Armour, I don’t think the race will ever begin. An official walks down the line, making sure our jerseys are legal. Another stands out front, explaining the course and the rules. I get in position.

“Runners, to your mark.” A wave of nausea sweeps through me but I force it down. This is my race.

With a loud crack, the gun goes off and 128 runners head out at a sprint, trying to get to the front of the pack. Screams come from all sides, making it hard to focus. Forcing the noise from my mind, I move forward quickly, my adrenaline flowing, trying to get me to go faster even though everything feels like Jell-O.

In no time, a mile has passed and I am somewhere in the middle of the group. I have the taste of blood in my mouth and it has been a while since I last felt my legs. My lungs burn, and my feet are frozen and hurting in my too-small running spikes. I put all my effort, both physical and mental, into keeping my pace. I have to do well for everyone who is here supporting me. I have to do well for me.

With half a mile to go, I can tell I am nearing the finish. The sides of the path are crowded with people, some cheering for me, but mostly for the girls who surround me. Small slopes in the course turn into steep hills and I find myself in slow motion, forcing my legs to move up hill after agonizing hill.

Suddenly I can see the finish line. I am almost there, but I know the hardest part of the race is yet to come. Pushing all the pain to the back of my mind, I take off in a dead sprint. I can get by that girl in front, and I am determined to do so. There is nobody who can pass me at the end.

Two hundred meters left. My whole body is numb and tears are streaming down my face from the cold wind thrashing against it. My eyes blur and all sound is blocked out. I feel as if I am floating yet I don’t know how I manage to keep from collapsing.

Crossing the finish line is the best moment of my life. I am done. Finished for the rest of my life. Never again will I run in a cross-country meet. Never again will I endure as much pain and discomfort.

As I lie on the grass gasping for air, trying to summon up enough energy to move, I feel disappointed. Not because of my performance - I know I have given it my all - but because I am going to miss everything about this cruel sport.

If I could go back, I’d do it all again, from waking in the morning already sick to my stomach at the thought of having to race, to lying on the cool grass, feeling so proud because I know that life can’t get any better than this moment when I gave it my all.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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