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Running Back Dreams This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I was still in bed when Mrs. Loras called my mother asking me to babysit herhyperactive nine-year-old son, Kenny. Instead of letting me rest, my motherforced me out of bed and sent me along, claiming I would thank her later.

As I walked slowly to the Loras' home, I observed the buds on the trees,fresh green grass sprouting and the sun winning a fight with dark clouds to shinedown on the warm May day. Since it was such a beautiful day, I paused to reflectas a warming wind blew across my face. I thought about how I once also needed ababysitter and recalled feeling I could take on the world. I now know thateveryone goes through this phase, but the successful ones try to break thesebarriers while understanding that limits are meant to bend, notbreak.

When I got there, Kenny asked with great excitement, "Can weplay football?" His mom was about to leave, so I reluctantly gave in to hisplea. Kenny struggled into his oversized pads that made the four-foot tall childdisappear, picked up the football that was too large for him to hold with onearm, and fumbled it many times. This did not stop the enthusiastic"all-star" from running, diving and imagining that he'd just made thewinning touchdown for the Super Bowl. It was comical to watch him lie on his backlike a turtle and struggle to get up again.

Behind his face mask, I sawhis pride and determination. I decided to support him with positive commentsabout his performance by exaggerating what a big, fast and powerful runner hewas. His eyes lit up and he burst with excitement, exclaiming what a greatfootball player he was.

Kenny assumed that his reputation was widelyknown. After bragging for several minutes about how many touchdowns, catches andtotal yards he had earned, Kenny predicted that he would not only be a superstarin our town, but also in the National Football League. I learned that anothergoal was to endorse his own shoe someday, and be on the cover of a famous sportsmagazine!

All of his dreams sparked my memory; I'd had similar ambitionswhen I was his age. Kenny is the back cover of a book that outlines the story forthe reader, while I have already read the book and know how the story ends. Ihave already experienced the harsh realities of competition, failure and gamesspent on the bench because I was not strong or fast enough.

I've learnedthat as emphasis on competition increases, football seems like more of a chorethan a game. Practices become more intense and the level of fun steadilydecreases. I wanted so much to tell him, but could not bring myself to do it.Kenny's future experiences would remain for only him to discover. It is one thingto read a book and understand it, but another to feel these emotions.

AsKenny boasted about his accomplishments (past, present and future), he droppedpasses, fumbled kickoffs and fell constantly. He was in the process of claiminghe'd be the next Anthony Thomas of the Chicago Bears when he tripped and fell atthe six-yard line. Kenny seemed to be having too much fun to care, sporting ahuge smile on his bruised and sweaty face as he dreamed of how great he wouldbecome. Even though Kenny failed to score a touchdown, his run was good enoughfor a first-down. He was too busy celebrating to realize that time had run out,his imaginary team losing by three.

His careless laughter and whoops ofjoy reminded me of my simple pleasures during my youth football games. It was thegreatest feeling in the world to wear that orange jersey with my name to schoolevery Friday. As I grew older and cheerleaders began wearing my teammates'jerseys to show that they were "going out," I was too proud of mine tohand it over. I remembered how much fun it was to score touchdowns at Saturdaygames and celebrate with teammates, win or lose.

The level of enjoymentwas indescribable. I remembered the boasting conversations with my friends abouthow great I was, and the cheering of the sparse crowds as we sprinted down thefield. Most of all, I remembered looking forward to playing on Friday nights as asenior.

I wished I could do it all over again. I wished football was stillfun and less competitive. I wished I could still feel as good as Kenny. I feltmyself living through him and thought about how we shared the same dreams andgoals. But only the best of the best get to play at the more competitive levels.Only the very best of those go on to become professionals, and the best of thoseathletes are what Kenny hoped to be better than someday! Kenny would never get asecond chance to have this much fun as a football player, and I wished I couldtell him to enjoy every minute since not all dreams come true. But I did not wantto crush his dreams and ruin his fun.

After Kenny finished celebrating hisimaginary game, he took a deep breath, the air of a champion, with a grin fromear to ear. As he took off his pads, less enthusiastically than he had put themon, he exclaimed, "I can't wait. Someday!"

As I watched Kennytake off his pads, I realized I would be doing that for the last time very soon,and that the love of the game makes it all worthwhile. Talent can only take me sofar, and it's my job to make the best of the time I have remaining. It is not howI end up, or the score of the game, but the journey and the enjoyment thatmatters.

I decided not to tell Kenny the brutal reality that thesidelines have inscribed on me, but instead encouraged enjoyment of the presentsince these will be the days he remembers. The afterword to our book is unknown,so instead of anticipating the season's end, Kenny inspired me to make the bestof every moment and love the game as I play it. Sports





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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