August 18, 2008

I Coulda Been A Contender

Watching the Olympic track & field competitions this week, has reminded me of my own track & field dreams, and how they were shattered with a traumatic turn of events. Well, like, totally traumatic, to like a fifteen year old girl.

In the spring of my freshman year of high school, I made the absurd choice to join the track team. I think that absurd reasoning might have had something to do with my best friend Leah and how teenage girls always have to do things together. It was either run track or go home and do homework in the afternoon. Whatever the reason, it was so out of character that my dad had made the comment that he knew I'd quit after a couple of weeks. That was all the motivation I needed to ensure that I finished the season. But when you learn to hide behind the bleachers after only a week of practice, it's pretty obvious that it's not the sport for you.

After a couple of weeks they pulled us all together to determine how well we could high skip. Apparently I did ok, because they asked me to run hurdles.

Um, does it mean less running? Sign me up.

I don't remember getting very much training. It was sorta here's how you do it ... now practice. So I did. Even now, 20 years later, I can remember just a little bit of the feeling of kicking my right leg up over each hurdle and the jarring thud as I hit the ground running. I practiced for quite awhile and thought I had it down pretty good.

My only issue was that due to my stubby little legs, I was forced to take an extra couple of steps in between just to get my right leg up over the next hurdle. So a few days before our first meet, some genius on the coaching staff watched my form and suggested I alternate legs. In theory, this makes total sense. The little stutter steps I was taking right before each hurdle was hurting my time. Alternating right, left, right, left provided a smoother run in between each jump. So the night before my first meet, I was up at the school trying desperately to throw my left leg over every other hurdle. As dusk settled over the field, I thought I had it figured out and finally went home.

The next day, I worried all day long about the afternoons meet. Finally 2:30 came and we loaded onto the bus. As the time came for my event, I felt sick to my stomach. I got in my start position and waited for the horn. As soon as it sounded, I took off. The first hurdle I made with my right leg. I sailed flung over it with little problem. 5 strides later, I awkwardly kicked up with my left leg, slammed into the hurdle and landed on my knees. Oh my, was I embarrassed, but determined to go on. The next hurdle was with my right leg, so I once again made it over, but inwardly groaned as I knew I was going to have to throw that left leg up once again. Not surprisingly, I hit the hurdle again. This time hearing laughter from some jerk in the stands. I picked myself up and made eye contact with my heckler. By this time the race was nearly over, but there was no way I was walking off that field. I decided then to do what I should have done from the beginning and finish the race leading with my right leg.

I did make it to the end, and then sat silent as a stone through the rest of the meet. That trip home was the longest bus ride known to man.

I don't need to tell you that I never jumped a hurdle again after that. But I have noticed myself during these Olympics, counting steps and watching which leg the sprinters lead with. And I always cheer for the short girls. (OK so I think there's only like one short girl, and she's probably nowhere near as short as me. whatever.)