Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Track Star

Upon entering high school, it became apparent to me that if you were not competitive, it was best not to play a team sport.  And after my sporting experiences in junior high, I knew that my athletic abilities were not going to get me much playing time anyway.  So, I chose a new sport, one where I could be part of a team, but where my individual performance would really only hurt myself.  And that sport was track.

Since I had never participated in track before, I had to find my niche.  I wasn't particularly fast, so sprints were out.  I also didn't have the greatest endurance, so distance wasn't really an option either.  A few practices with high jumping proved that my coordination wasn't the greatest.  It also prompted my coach, Sue, to respond with a vehement "NO!" when I broached the subject of attempting the hurdles.  She explained that I was too much of an injury risk.

So, I ended up in the 400 and 800 meter dashes--or one or two laps around the track, which seems harmless enough, but let me assure you it is nothing of the sort.  Although these races are labeled as middle distance, that is a lie.  They are sprints in disguise.  Awfully long, arduous sprints.  I would have been better off running the 100 meter dash, because at least it would have been over with faster. 

The first track meet of my freshman year seemed to foreshadow the epic failure of my four year track career.  Let me explain.  We could never have track meets at our school's track.  For one, it was only 300 meters, rather than the standard 400 meters.  And secondly, it was a cinder track with a sink hole on one of the curves that put you in danger of a sprained ankle at every lap.  So, as I stood in my lane for my first meet, it was on a track that I had never seen before...with many, many confusing lines painted on it.

With the shot of the gun, I was off.  Running, running, and as I came around the last curve into the home stretch, I wasn't in last!  I was so elated!  As I came to the end of the race, I stood there, breathing hard and congratulating myself in my mind.

I did it!  Maybe I will be good at track after all!  And, is that my coach and teammates cheering for me?!

"Gretchen!!!  Gretttcchheeeen!!"

Yes, it is!  They are probably just as excited as I am!

"Excuse me, honey."  I looked over to see the woman with the stop watch addressing me with a strange look on her face.  "Could you please step over the finish line so that I can clock your time?"

What!?  I looked down, and to my horror, I saw that I was standing just a millimeter away from a yellow line.  With shoulders slumped and embarrassment burning on my cheeks, I stepped over the line only to have the slowest 400 time by a non-handicapped person clocked in and recorded for posterity.  I looked over at my coach and teammates, and when I saw their faces it dawned on me that they hadn't been cheering at all, but rather trying to warn me of my horrible mistake.

And, as I said, things didn't go much better from there.  Let's see, there was the time I passed out while running the 800 meter dash due to a rupturing ovarian cyst.  No one found it odd at first when I didn't round the bend with the pack of runners because I was normally that slow.

Oh, or the time our coach forced everyone to run the maximum number of events at a meet.  I first asked if I could run the two mile race, to which she replied in complete seriousness, "No...people want to get out of here at a decent hour."  She finally agreed to let me run the mile race, which I wasn't happy about at all.  Each time I passed her on a lap I would plead, "Do I haaavee to run this?  Can't I stop?"  After the third lap she finally relented, to which I gladly stopped and walked off the track.

You may be wondering how I could participate in a sport for so long and yet make no visible improvements.  The answer to that is manifold.  First, my male coach seemed to have no concept of how the female reproductive system worked, namely that you only get a period once a month.  All I had to do was mention that word and I was able to spend practice sunbathing in the bleachers. 

Second, I mentioned before my utter lack of competitive spirit.  My coach would often be puzzled by the fact that I would often run faster at practice.  The reason for this was quite simple: when people passed me in a race at a meet, it didn't make me want to run faster.  In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect, like Oh well, I'm not going to win this one so why tax myself? 

And lastly, my favorite part of track meets was the food.  The concession stand sold these really delicious pepperoni rolls; I mean really delicious. And I could hardly wait for the district track meet in Shadyside where we could walk to DeFelice Brothers Pizza....amazing pizza, let me tell you.

For all of my failures as a member of the track team, I had a lot of fun participating, made some great friends, and, while I wasn't exactly racking up points for the team, no one seemed to care that I was so terrible.  I earned a letter (probably from pity) and  even came away with a medal.  That's right...I placed sixth in a race...in which only six people ran.  But hey, I'll take it.

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