My freshman year in high school I decided to join winter track. I’d always been a decent runner, and I was eager to get involved in a school sport now that volleyball season had ended.
During tryouts, the coach had the freshman run various race lengths to see where our strengths lied. I was at the starting line getting ready to run the 220 next to a proven sophomore – she had legs like a colt and was rumored to be the best female runner on the team.
She knew it too. She looked at me with snort and a smirk, clearly displaying her superiority over a mere freshman. It pissed me off, and I wanted to beat her really, really badly. The coach, before firing the starter pistol, warned us to take it easy and not push ourselves to the max. These were just warm up races.
Yeah, coach. Sure thing. You betcha.
When the pistol shot rang out I was off, as was the smirking sophomore. We quickly left the pack behind, and it was just me and her out in front. We were neck and neck for the longest time, when I heard her say, “Ugh, I can’t!” as I passed her.
Ha! Having crossed the finish line first, I toyed with the idea of smirking back at her, but Tracy don’t play that way. Instead, I walked it off, heading across the field back to the starting line. As I approached the team clustered around the stands, a few girls ran up to me and said, “You broke the school record!”
WHAT? ME? On my first DAY?!?
Turns out I had. I was so intent on beating that show-off sophomore that I had run faster than even I knew I could. The coach confirmed it, but said it could not be counted officially because it had not happened during an actual race, just during practice. A friend of mine said that during the race the coach had said something to effect of, “Look at her go…”
I always liked that.
I spent the next month or so running and re-running the 220 in practice, sometimes breaking the record, sometimes not. Our only meet that season was a huge Tri-State event in which runners from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania would compete. It was held on a college campus with a large, indoor track facility; where I could not tell you. I just know we had to leave really early and the bus ride was loooong.
I had one event, a relay in which each of 4 team members ran 220 yards and passed the baton to the next runner. While I cared if my team won our heat, I was more interested in my portion of the race, because this was my shot at beating our school record.
The event arena was crowded, and It was difficult to make my way to the starting line when the call time for our race came. groups of students from God knows how many schools were camped in any open spot they could find
I had the outside lane. I remember being confident rather than nervous at the starting line. All I had to do was run, right?
As I heard the bang of the starting pistol, I was off running and was soon neck and neck with girls from the tri-state area, but I wasn’t interested in them. I could come in dead last, as long as I beat our school’s record.
As I came into the first turn, there were legs across the track. How odd.
See, the arena was really too small for all the people that were there. A set of bleachers came within 2 feet or so of the outside lane of the track until you got to the turns, where it opened up a bit. A group of students had decided this little spot by the turn would be the perfect place to hang out and relax before their next event. Apparently said group of students had not heard the race begin.
So there they were. A set of legs, clad in athletic socks and white sneakers, in my path. Not to be deterred, I leapt over them without breaking stride, which was fine & dandy.
Except for when I landed, my ankle twisted and I stumbled right into the girl running next to me, who fell. It was enough of a blunder to demolish my time and annihilate any chance I had at the school record. I remember passing the baton to my team mate with the sage advice of “Run your ass off!”
Our team not only lost, but didn’t qualify for the next heat. And like that my winter track season was over. I would never gaze proudly at my name on the record board in the cafeteria. No mention of my name would be made in the morning annoucements in home room. No accolades, no nods of approval from fellow classmates.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the chick I stumbled into? She was pissed. And tough. She looked like a Bronx gang lord. I’d not only messed up my chances, I’d messed hers up as well. With wounded pride and a sore ankle I spent the remainder of the meet skulking around in the shadows desperately trying to avoid getting my ass kicked.
I don’t rememer if my coach ever lodged a complaint about the human obstacle in my path. Who knows what might have happened if that girl had sat cross-legged, or had used a Q-tip that morning and had thus heard the starter pistol, or maybe just decided that baton twirling would be way more fun that winter track. Who knows?
But she was there, and in my path, and changed my fate.