Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Starting Line

I ran before.  But then I stopped.

Now I run again.

Early spring when I was in the 7th grade, the announcements (read over the intercom like all things of import were back then) stated that Junior High track season would soon start.  It took some courage, but I managed to ask my parents if I might "go out" for track.

It was a loaded question, because it meant that I would be staying after school every day of the week.  And instead of riding the bus home, it meant that I had to be picked up by car.  Perhaps a trivial thing to many, but living on a farm well outside of city limits meant that somebody would have to leave home around 5 and drive the 20-30 minutes to get me, and then the 20-30 minutes home. Before the time change this would interfere with dinner preparation.  And worse, after the time change it was sacrificing precious daylight hours that could be spent in the fields or garden.

My parents were tremendously supportive, often telling me I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.  Anything that is, that didn't inconvenience them or cost too much money.

Still, they said yes.

And so I became a member of the track team.  I was practically built for the part.  Scrawny, yet leggy, like a young fruit tree, springing in the wind.  At that point in my life I was apparently powered by a nuclear reactor, or other some such nearly perpetual energy source.  (And my feet smelled like toxic chemicals to hear my mother tell it.)  I ran middle distance, 800m, often as a leg of the 400m relay, and occasionally the 1600m.  And I long-jumped.

I could have been really good.  I could have been state tournament good, I'm sure of it.

But I ran scared.

And so, 10th grade rolled around and I decided that tennis was much more my style.  Yet even on the tennis court, running stayed with me.  I was, without fail, in the lead on our team fitness runs.  I developed a reputation for doggedly running down any ball.  From drop shots to lobs, I prided myself in always at least putting a racket on the ball.

I could have been really good.  I could have been state tournament good, I'm sure of it.

But I played scared.

In fact, I remember once a week at practice we had ladder matches to determine the seeding for any tournaments the coming weekend.  Top 6 seeds were considered varsity, and 7-12 were considered JV.  For the ladder challenges, either a lower seeded player could challenge a higher seeded player, or the coach would assign matches.  One week it turned out that after all the "by choice" challenges had been paired, the only remaining match-up was myself, #13 and the #2 ranked player.  It was an improbable match-up.  I was completely relaxed because nobody expected me to win.

Not even myself.

But I got into a rhythm.  And started landing huge serves.  And not only was I winning, I was steamrolling my opponent.  I won the first two sets 6-0.  My opponent had no answer for me.  I was up 4-0 in the third set; two games away from clinching the biggest upset the team had seen in years. And as we changed sides, he stopped me.

He was crying.

He pleaded with me, telling me his dad was going to punish him if I beat him.

And I caved.  I succumbed to my doubt, lack of confidence, and my fear.  I mean, what if I won?

He celebrated his comeback victory heartily with the rest of the varsity players, with high fives and great bellows of "Come ON!!"  I quietly went back to the JV courts.  The coach gave me a long, searching look when I reported the score of our match, but he said nothing.  Two weeks later he asked me to forfeit a match in an interscholastic tournament to advance one of our varsity players.

I did as he asked.  And then I never went back to practice.

The years slipped by.  As college, marriage, a child, divorce, remarriage, more children, jobs, money, stress, bills packed on the pounds I was soon no longer a leggy, young fruit tree.  I started running on a treadmill at the gym to lose weight.  And lose weight I did--65 lbs.  But it wasn't until the very end that I began to enjoy running.

And then I quit.

I gained back the weight--every miserable pound of it--for reasons that I'll not be discussing here.

I ran before.  But then I stopped.

Now I run again, and I long to run without fear.