Yesterday I went to my second middle school track meet ever. I don’t remember track being an option when I was in seventh or eighth grade, but am so grateful it’s available for my kids today.
I, of course, am my son’s biggest fan, paying close attention to his events and cheering loudly so he can hear. But it’s the last Greenville girl to cross the finish line in the 3200 meter – or two mile – that I’m silently cheering loudest for. That’s because I was that girl.
It might have been 29 years ago. But as I watch this teenager methodically plug along at an even pace – not fast, but steady – I can see my 15-year-old self. I only tried track one year and for some reason I can’t remember, signed up for the event where you had to run the farthest.
Maybe it was because I knew that I wasn’t fast, but that I could run forever. Or perhaps there weren’t enough girls who volunteered and I caved to the coach’s repeated calls for participation – same way I ended up swapping the clarinet (which I loved) for the bassoon (which I did not love).
In any case, you won’t find my name in any record books. And most likely nobody will remember anything about me during that track season. But I did have a kind of claim to fame for that two-mile event: I came in last at every single meet. Except Lowell.
On that afternoon at the Lowell track, which I remember being somewhere over by the fairgrounds, parents huddled in the stands to cheer on the Jackets. Just as always, the starting shot blasted. First lap down. Then second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. The pack was way ahead. Knowing my record, they’d probably already lapped me at least once.
But it was in my last lap on that day that I realized I had a chance to pass the girl in front of me who was on track to finish second to last. I ran a little faster. Then faster and eventually, I could hear her huffing and puffing just as hard as me.
Digging deep I pulled out a little more speed and – low and behold – passed her. I should have had my eye on the finish line, but all I remember is watching that small group of parents in the stands jump to their feet and cheer me on. For the first time the whole season, I’d actually passed someone.
They may have been cheering because, finally, they didn’t have to feel so badly that Julie came in last – again. Or perhaps they were cheering because they knew what a feat this was for me.
In any case, I want that small group of parents to know that I may joke about this experience today all in good fun. And I never did go out for track again. But that day inspired me to continue running – not competitively, but for personal health and satisfaction for most of the past 29 years.
And I’d like that girl, who crossed the finish line last yesterday, to know that it’s not always about where you finish. It’s more about turning that finish into a start.
Even if you come in last every single time, I’m one of your biggest fans.