I’ve never been the star athlete. I’ve always been in relatively good shape, consistently giving effort and showing enthusiasm for whatever sport in which I’ve dabbled, but I always seem to remain a middle-of-the-pack player.
Once I got over my passion for volleyball and realized that my wit would carry me much farther in life than my athleticism, I was happy with such status. Thus, it never occurred to me that I would ever make some sort of finals in any sport, much less an individual one.
Having given up volleyball due to stress and team troubles, I was excited to begin participating in track at school. Like I did with most things, I became incredibly enamored with the sport from the get-go, eager to best my previous records and show my capabilities. Though I began the season as a sprinter, after I successfully cleared a high men’s regulation height for fun at a track meet, the specialty coach and I quickly decided to focus on hurdling.
Let me be clear. The school I went to is known for many things – close teacher-student relations, rigorous academics, a hefty endowment – but athletics rarely are a major talking point.
So when I became increasingly proficient in hurdles, perhaps my vision of my skill was a bit skewed – I was the best (albeit only) girl hurdler on the team, so it became a rather prominent part of my life. This is not to say that I expected any victories. My hurdling days came in the late end of the season, and after only running my event twice (and finishing in the middle of the pack each time), the meet to qualify for states came next.
At qualifying, I was set to race against seven other girls for two spots at the state championship. I had barely a month of experience under my belt, so who would even think that I could finish in the top two? If I didn’t finish in the top two, the other way to qualify was to run the event under a certain time (I believe it was fifteen seconds or so). But because my time was nowhere close to fifteen seconds, top two was my only hope.
A few minutes before the hurdle check-in began, I stood and spoke with Tristan, my hurdling coach, and told him that I was beside myself with nerves-– I knew I wasn’t going to win. He chided me for this attitude. Though I regretted saying this to a man who had worked tirelessly to get me to this point, I still knew that there was no chance for me. I would run the event and smile after, laughing about some stumble I had or about how I looked so weird jumping over the hurdles. I would be fine.
The strangest surprise (well, I suppose second strangest) was that when I went to check in, the meet moderator informed me that I would be running alongside only two other girls, as five had dropped out at last minute. Five! I was shocked. The idea of beating one of them crossed my mind, and my nerves exploded. It eventually came time to line up at the start, and I was ridiculously scared.
The two other girls were both muscular, powerfully tall, and had beautifully smooth dark skin. On the contrary, I was medium-height, vaguely muscled, and pale. They both began jumping up and down to warm their muscles up for the race, and out of fear, I tried to do the same. They came off as graceful and determined, while I’m sure I looked ridiculous.
“You guys are going to do great, I’ve only been hurdling for a month, I’m going to watch you on TV and cheer for you,” I said to both of them, and they smiled, laughing, half entertained by the interesting character that stood before them, half relieved that their spots at state were pretty much guaranteed. Because of this certainty, I felt a bit more relaxed as we took our marks, and when the gun sounded, I knew that I would run this happily despite the outcome.
The taller, leaner girl took off, speeding through the hurdles so skillfully that I almost wanted to stop and just watch her race. Surprisingly, the shorter girl ran a bit slower, still in front of me, but not at such an incredibly fast pace. It was essentially over for me when the shorter girl stumbled over her second hurdle and basically sat down on the ground.
My first thought was one of confusion. Had she not practiced? Was she all right? Did I do something to cause her fall? I continued running but I still didn’t fully understand the situation. It wasn’t until about halfway through the race that I saw my ecstatic team and coaches screaming at me that I realized the unthinkable: if I finished, I was going to state.
Euphoria overpowered me, and I finished the race as fast as I could, even managing to let out a “Holy cow!” as I crossed the finish line. Panting, I stood at the end filled with shock, and when the moderator wrote a “2” next to my name during the event check-out, I knew this was reality. I was going to state. Victory!
Although I finished dead last at my race at states, I had a darn good time trying!
(photo courtesy of Sang Lei/Dreamstime.com)