I wish I could run. Effortlessly. With joy. Graceful gliding on sidewalk. Easy breath. Confident stride. Smile of bliss crossing my face.
But I can’t run. When I try, it’s more like a shuffle. It’s tough. Demoralizing. Choppy. With the wheeze of asthmatic lungs. Insecure. Grimace of agony pinching my face.
To summarize: it isn’t pretty.
And, yet, I ran track in high school. I signed up my freshman year for two reasons.
1). My big sister told me to.
2). It was the only co-ed sport at my school.
Turns out, these were foolish reasons for running track. Because…
1). My big sister wasn’t my Mom. Why did I feel like I had to obey this demand? (Sorry, Betsy)
2). The boys were less than impressed by my daily asthma attacks.
Not to mention, I hated running. I’m not a competitive person. Track shorts weren’t incredibly flattering (on me, at least).
Being forced each day to participate in torture just wasn’t my thing.
So, I didn’t try.
My motto became, “Hey, somebody’s gotta lose. Might as well be me”.
Not exactly a great attitude.
Now, I attended a small Christian school. We (I use the word “we” very loosely here…the word “they” meaning my teammates would be far more accurate) destroyed the competition at the Christian school invitational meets.
Those kids would shake in their boots when they saw us coming. (Again, “us” meaning “my teammates”)
However, my freshman year, my school joined a different athletic association. Tougher. More competitive. Full of (shudder) public schools.
Schools that actually had a budget for their track team.
We were almost always the only Christian school at the meets. And our jerseys made sure everybody knew who we were.
“CHRISTIAN” printed in bold letters across our chests.
Suddenly we were destroyed (this “we” is all inclusive). Those schools had us shaking in our cute little spikes.
I distinctly remember one invitational. The track for this meet was bigger than my entire school. The stands packed full of fans. Lots and lots of them. More than the student body of my school. Including the elementary kids.
Things weren’t looking so good for me.
Time for my event. The 800 meter run. Now, if you don’t know anything about track, the 800 is three minutes of sprinting. Or, in my case, four or five minutes of shuffling. And that was when I was at my peak physical condition.
The 800 is for champs. Masochists. Real athletes.
It is not right for flirty girls. Asthmatics. People who don’t care about winning.
That, folks, was not a good event for me.
But, hey, I got to hang out with guys.
Yeah. Still not worth it.
Anyway, that day, I got myself up to the starting line. Breathed deep in hopes of settling my nerves. I wasn’t nervous about losing. No. Nothing like that. I just didn’t want to scream when the gun shot to start the race.
I readied myself. Yelped when the gun popped. Ran. Or jogged. Okay. Staggered.
Lap one. I lagged. Heard my coach yelling.
“Go faster, Susie!”
Had I been able to breathe, I would have screamed, “I AM! GET OFF MY BACK!”
Lap two. Way behind. The first place runner passed me. Then the second. Third. And so on.
By the time I was on meter 600, the race was done.
Except for me.
I wanted to quit.
“Come on, Christian!” someone yelled from the stands.
Then another, “You can finish, Christian!”
The fans in the stands stood. Clapped their hands. Cheered me on.
“Hey, Christian, don’t give up!”
“Almost there, Christian!”
100 more meters. My eyes filled with tears of pain and embarrassment and love.
“You got this, Christian!”
I lifted my knees a bit higher. Pushed off the track with the spikes on my feet. Pumped my arms. Set determination in my face.
Finished that race.
“You did it, Christian!”
“Good job, Christian!”
They cheered. For me. Louder than for the girl who came in first.
They cheered for the little Christian girl who never won a race. Not even one.
And they called out my name.
No. They called out my real name.
The name I imagine the great cloud of witnesses calls when they cheer for us.
To finish the race.
To keep going.
To never give up.
To run with joy for the prize.