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Tears filled my eyes as I lay in complete and totalshock. This could not have happened, not this day, not this year. I had worked sohard, and then this...
Thatmorning I awoke with a sudden flourish of happiness and confidence. I was asenior and it was the morning of the Cross Country Regional Meet. The weatherforecast was for optimal running conditions throughout the weekend. This was myday to advance after years of heartbreak. My redemption was here for the takingin this culmination of training and fortitude.
As we arrived at thecourse, however, I found myself doubting my abilities. Questions cluttered mybrain, and I was challenging my own desire to be the best. As the team began towarm up, I set my mind to prepare me to run successfully. As we stretched, I gavemyself a pep talk to sustain my much-needed positive attitude.
Thiswarm-up period is when good runners are separated from excellent runners. Withthe immense pressure leading up to a race, a good runner will succumb tonervousness while an excellent runner will embrace that unease and use it to hisor her advantage. This is the time when champions are made. This is the time whenI believed I was a champion.
As I stood at the starting line, secondsseemed to turn to minutes and then hours. The gun was in the air, the crowd wassilent and I could hear my heart pumping with the adrenaline of a thousandsoldiers ready for battle. There is nothing quite like the sudden calm before across-country race.
The gun sounded, and my legs pumped like the pistonsof a fine-tuned machine. I was in the lead, with the pack close behind. Followingthe mental blueprint I had carefully designed, I began to fall back and tucked innicely behind another runner. My body felt great, and I was enthused by the powerin my legs. One quarter of a mile into the race, I still felt good and was inperfect position to qualify.
Then came the long downhill that had proventreacherous if total caution were not taken. I was in fourth place beginning thedowngrade. I let my body go, and gravity did the work for me.
But then Ifelt a slight twinge deep inside my quadriceps. I tried to remain calm, andextended my stride to stretch my troubled muscle. The next stretch is straightand flat, you'll be fine, I kept reciting as a mantra.
Nothing changedexcept my attitude, which went from bad to worse. A plethora of doubt encompassedmy once-solid mindset. The onset of such hesitancy completely and utterly wreakedhavoc on my body. If things didn't change, I would soon be finished.
Therace then turned and began another long grade change, this time uphill, trulydisastrous for my leg. I plodded along, barely able to lift my leg, definitelyfalling off my once-powerful pace. Approaching the top of the hill and passingthe mile mark, I had dropped from the top five to a disappointing 15th, a shakyspot if I wanted to qualify.
Ironically, I began to shift my mantra fromone of total relaxation and confidence to one of desperation: The first steptoward achieving is believing, I repeated in my ever-numbing mind. I just couldnot go any further. The unwavering stride that was my pride and joy was replacedby a decrepit limp. I could not move another foot, and collapsed in a heap ofagonizing defeat.
For the past four years I had dedicated myself tosomething I believed would help me achieve greatness, but all it caused was aninconceivable feeling of defeat and disappointment. The last race of myhigh-school career left me in agony. I was emotionally drained, and all I coulddo was cry.
Why did I weep with such misery? Was it because I felt like afailure to myself or to my parents and coach? Thinking back, my lamentation wasnot one of negativity, but of a beautiful mystery that represents all that isgood and honorable in athletics and life. It is not often that an individual putsforth all effort solely for personal satisfaction. I had placed much of theimportance of my life on qualifying for sectionals, and my failure to qualifygave me an understanding that I never expected.
I have come to therealization that my high-school cross country days are over and I no longer havethe pleasure of taking part in something so pure and innocent compared to theoutside world. My days of practice with a wonderful group of individuals thereare through.
That is why I wept. My age of innocence had ended, and thisloss signaled the beginning of a new life. The final episode in high school crosscountry will remain a hallmark. From now on, I will not be competing in just asimple high-school cross country race, I will be competing in the game of life, arace that I will run forever.