When I was 16 and in 11th grade, I joined my high school track and field team. Why? Probably because most of my friends were already on the team and it seemed fun. I mean that’s why I joined the marching band in 10th grade (okay, color guard, but still). I had been on a track and field team as a home-school kid, many years earlier, so I figured I would just pick up the same events I did as a small child (9 or 10). Hahaha. Ha. Silly me.
I showed up to the first practice in the clunky running shoes I wore for gym class. The coach later laughed at me for this, like I should have known to wear different shoes. I still don’t know why. After we picked out events (I chose 100-meter dash, 4×100 meter relay race, and 100-meter hurdles), he said I would need spike shoes. I had no money, so he let me borrow an old pair, but because of a miscommunication of terms, I didn’t know about the spikes I had to screw into the soles of the shoes. I thought they had better grip on the track than my regular running shoes without the spikes, so how was I to know? No one told me. I actually thought the metal holes in the soles were the “spikes.” I felt very stupid when he showed me how to put them in. Who knows how I missed that.
Literally the only picture I could find. I was so slow, I considered it a victory if I didn’t finish last.
Eventually, I was getting the hang of running in my spiky shoes, but still not running as fast as my teammates. Understandable, as most of them had already been on the team for a few years. I tried my hardest though. I fell once or twice practicing hurdles, which made me very nervous to leap over them at a meet, with hundreds of people watching. But I was determined to try.
If I did hurdles at a meet more than once, I do not remember the first time, because only one sticks out: The Granger track. It was later in the season, because it took a long time for me to decide I was ready to compete in that event. It was a big meet. Regionals, or only a few meets before. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Everyone was excited to win, or at least PR (personal record). We had a lot great athletes on our team. But as soon as I saw the track, I knew that falling would be especially bad today, worse than any other meet at any other school. See, most tracks are made of textured rubber, or something synthetic that is easy to grip, especially with spike shoes, and doesn’t hurt that much when you fall. I could have sworn that someone had taken a rototiller to that rubber and mixed in gravel. My heart sank. The pressure was on. I made it through the 4×1 successfully, and soon enough it was time to take our places on the starting blocks and prepare to leap. I gritted my teeth, took a big breath, and took off at that gun shot, not even faltering.
Until the last hurdle. I made all the others, my heart pounding with each leap, knowing that even a wrong inch or second could cost me my skin, but my left foot betrayed me, just barely catching the wooden bar, which fell down after me. I put my hands out to catch myself, but my knee hit first, skidding in the gravel. The cheering crescendoed. Familiar voices of my teammates and coaches encouraged me to finish, but I was already up and running. I was shaking and bleeding profusely, but I finished. You can’t just not finish a race. Once my time was recorded, I limped as fast as I could to a bathroom. My only thought was stopping the bleeding. I needn’t have worried; it was barely trickle by the time I got to the sink. I was in shock. I used paper towels to mop up my knee and picked the rocks out with my fingernails. I limped back out and found the coach whom I knew had the first aid kit. She sprayed the wound with antiseptic and stuck a bandage on it.
Finally, I could rest. Until that moment, all sound had blurred together into a dull roar, but as soon as it quieted, I heard my name being called. It was my friend Christy, the main reason I had joined the team. Apparently the 100-meter dash was about to start. She must not have seen me fall, because her voice sounded annoyed, like I had forgotten about my race. Reasonable. I had forgotten, but only because I had just ripped up my knee. I stood up and jogged to the start line, yelling, “I’m coming! I just injured myself!” All the other girls were already on their blocks. I got down in starting position, let out a slow exhale, and waited. The gun fired. I ran with all my might. I applied all the form and technique I’d learned over the previous three months, elbows in a 90 degree angle, keeping my steps high and my shoulders back. I imagined I was pulling myself through the air with my fists. My knee hurt, but it apparently wasn’t hindering my performance, because I DIDN’T EVEN COME IN LAST. I had just injured myself, and I still beat someone who had not just injured herself. I was faster than someone while recovering from a wound that left a scar I still have today.
Doesn’t look so bad now, but imagine it 8 years ago.
The only point to this story was that when I feel defeated, like I won’t ever accomplish anything again, I remember this victory. I remember that even in the wake of seemingly debilitating trauma (in the heat of the moment), I still have the power to get up do something awesome. If I may paraphrase Chumbawumba, I may get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.