I have a number of moments in my life that from time to time flashback to me out of my subconscious, sometimes they are positive, but more often they are of the variety that make me cringe and make me wanna beat myself up again for being such clueless dolt. One of those few bright moments that I sometimes allow myself to reflect on hearkens back to my time as a would-be athlete.
At the time I was a senior in high school and at the peak of my overall physical condition, at least in my life so far. I'm currently in a valley that I fell in from that peak over the course of the last ten years and hiking my way out of the wilderness but keep getting lost. (stupid compass)
Anyways, at my very last track meet I participated in a Decathlon. For all of you who are only vaguely aware that track and field does exist somewhere outside of the Olympics every four years, a decathlon is an track meet that runs ten different events in the hopes of finding the best "overall" athlete. In other words we are looking for the best "jack of all trades" in track and field. What that often means to the participants is that they must do their best in some sports that they may not be totally comfortable in but need to at least seem capable in, or in my case avoid looking like a complete jack ass while doing them.
It was in my preparation for this meet that I became acquainted with a piece of equipment known as a high hurdle, essentially a bar that is raised to about a little over waist high. The purpose of these obstacles, in "theory", is to force the runner to jump completely over them while maintaining as smooth and fast a stride as possible before crossing the finish line. As is so often the case in many theories it is heavily dependant on some basic premises being true. For example it erroneously assumes that each participant can not only run in a straight line but also while running in that straight line use the kinetic energy being exerted to rise more than an inch over the ground to clear the hurdle. As so often has been the case in my life I soon found out that I was the exception to that rule.
Woohoo! Here's to being exceptional!
Well regardless of this seeming impediment I decided give it the good ol' college try anyways. I went for it for two reasons. The first reason was that if I was going to have any shot at finishing the contest anywhere other than dead last I had to participate in ten events. While its true that I had a choice of events between the 110m hurdles and the pole vault I thought I had a much better shot at the hurdles. In my mind it came down to a simple equation. Do I think I can jump a foot in the air while running? Or, do I think I can hurl my body full blast at a ditch in the ground using a ten foot pole to catapult myself over a flimsy bar several feet up in the air without knocking it over on the way down? Guess which one I chose.
The other reason I stuck it out with the hurdles was that in practice at least I felt like I was managing to make enough progress that I might be able to clear the damn things, even if at an admittedly slower pace. Oh, how strong denial can be sometimes. How foolish I was to allow visions of mediocrity dance through my head.
Preparations aside, the day of the race arrived and being young and naïve as I was I was feeling fairly excited and confident going into the race. Just before the race I went over in my head how I wanted run every part of the race and the proper technique I needed to use to get the most out of my body. I took my place at the starting line, set myself up in the starting blocks with butterflies in my stomach. The next thing I know a split second has passed and the starting gun has gone off. Over the course of that split second every bit of preparation I had made vanished from my mind. I mean, every scrap of memory revolving how to run that race completely disappeared. It was a trick that would have made Houdini proud. In its place nothing was left but pure primal panic and fear. I frantically shot up out of my crouch, desperate to keep the other runners from leaving me in their dust. I imagine that had someone been tape recording the race they would have noticed looking back at the tape that the stout runner in lane 5 had such a look of terror on his face that you wouldn't really think he was racing against the other runners so much as running for dear life.
Facial expressions aside however, the start of the race could have been worse. I had my adrenaline up and I was ready to take flight down the runway en route with the finish line. Flight 197 Air Track Boy was ready for take-off. That's when I reached the first hurdle.
Now when done properly the leg kick used to clear a hurdle can a beautiful thing to behold with as much grace and elegance of movement that you might see a ballerina employ, just at a much higher rate of speed of course. I however did not employ my leg kick properly. My leading leg could only manage to flair out just enough up and in front of me to scrape above the first hurdle while my second leg which was supposed to come over the side after it couldn't even do that. The result was a hard knee to the clearance bar of the hurdle swiftly followed by an even harder smash of the face to the artificial track surface. I got a good sample of the recycled tires they used to make the track. It tasted pretty much as you might expect for any of you who might be wondering, though I'm sure the metallic taste of blood also in my mouth must have thrown the flavor off a bit as well.
You might recall at the very beginning of this whole little odyssey that I've been leading you through that I said this was a happy recollection. And despite all evidence to the contrary so far, it is. Honest to god, I still smile about it and not just sheepishly for the shear embarrassment of it. Though after the race I do recall being able to cook an egg off the surface of my face. What makes me smile is that after I made my first tumble, and all the rest that would come to follow, I immediately popped up and started running again. I refused to give in, walk off and not finish. I worked too hard and too long to have my last track meet be tarnished by a race that I knew I could finish but didn't want to because of a few scraps and bruises. It was that determination and grit that I used to motivate myself to trip, stumble and stagger across the finish line a winner.
Not a literally winner of course, I finished dead last in my heat, but a winner none the less.
There is something positive to be said for perseverance I think. With so much emphasis in society placed on immediate results and gratification it is easy to over look the admirable attributes of people who may not be the most naturally gifted but can keep on fighting to get them where they want to go in spite of what roadblocks may lie in front of them. It takes true strength to face adversity and be able to say the hell with it, I'm going to do the best I can and should I fall short of my goal at least I know I poured every ounce of myself into it. I can't speak for anyone else but for me it is those people whom I respect most in life.