Passion (day 4)

 

Anger drove my effort

propelling me through the stretching and warmups,

giving me an energy that even I didn’t know I possessed.

Every daisy chain lap we repeated

added fuel to my fire of hatred

burning against both the coach and the sport of running itself.

 

After what seemed like an eternity,

warmups ended.

 

Searching out the eyes of the other five,

it was plain to see

we all knew what was next…

 

the determination of our fate and destiny.

 

We once again joined up and slowly made our way over to the bench.

“Girls. Do you know why you are here?”

All of us refused to meet his eyes,

knowing that any connection

meant that he had power over us.

Inside I clenched everything I could clench

and willed myself not to cry.

“Jenny? Why are you here today?”

What? He was now asking me a personal question?!?

Who does he think he is?

I couldn’t even answer that question for myself,

let alone to a man that I hated with every fiber of my being.

So I stood

and waited

and waited.

I assumed that he would move on

but instead,

I heard him ask again

“Jenny. Why are you here today? Rachel, why are you here?

April?”

We all stood in silence. A team within a team.

Standing in solidarity

and refusing to break.

Time passed by

and still we stood.

 

Finally, just as I thought my legs were going to give out underneath me

from being locked in place for so long,

his gruff voice spoke again.

But something was different.

There was something softer,

something that made me

momentarily step out of defense mode

and catch his piercing brown eyes taking each of us in.

For fear of him noticing my gaze,

I quickly fixed my eyes back on the cinders below my feet

 

 

After a deep inhale of breath,

his words began to break the silence,

and what he said in the next few minutes

was the beginning of my love story.

Not with the coach

but with the sport of running.

 

“Girls. I know that right now, you are angry.

You are frustrated.

Embarrassed.

Ready to quit.

Many, if not all of you, have never ran track before.

You came out to see what it was all about

but then life got in the way.

School ended, time passed faster than expected

and you didn’t make it out the door on time.

You were late.

But…

you already knew that.

That isn’t why you are standing here right now.

You are standing here because,

even though life got in the way

you still came. You could have chosen to stay in the locker room.

You could have chosen to call your parents to pick you up.

But you didn’t.

Each of you made the decision to push onward

and finish what you hadn’t even yet begun.

That takes strength

and courage

and that is the reason you are standing here right now.

Today, each of you showed your character,

you showed me that you don’t believe in giving up.”
The feet around me began to shuffle and before I knew it,

I was looking up

and caught his eye.

I couldn’t help myself,

it was almost as if he had heard all of my inner struggles

and yet affirmed me for the agonizing decision I had to make

not even an hour in the past.

Slowly, I felt a tear well up in my eye

and slowly trickle down my cheek

but this time

I was’t ashamed.

I knew that tear symbolized all the effort

it had taken to get me out to that very spot

and I realized that somehow

he knew it as well.

 

I don’t remember the rest of what coach said at that point

except that he chose the six of us

to lead the team.

We were made captains,

a group of nobodies,

of stragglers

that really had no business being out on the track that day.

Coach saw through that and affirmed in us

abilities that none of us would have ever discovered on our own.

 

Although it wasn’t always easy (I never understood the necessity of a mile warmup!)

I grew to love track that year.

Running became my outlet,

and even when I didn’t place at a meet

I knew that there was always

at least one person believing in me.

 

Every time I began to doubt my abilities

or my worthiness to the team,

I would replay his words in my head.

If he believed in me,

I owed it to him to at least try to believe in myself.

He gave me a purpose,

and through his leadership,

a lifelong passion of mine was born

giving me an identity which I still carry today;

I am a runner

and I really and truly

owe it all to him.

 

Passion… cont’d (day 3)

 

As the chilly early spring breeze

cut right through my thin long sleeve shirt,

I pondered turning around and walking back into the locker room.

The coach already hated me

I was a member of “that’ group of girls

(of which I was sure they didn’t want me to be a part)

and practice hadn’t yet officially begun.

 

Just as my mind was made up to cut my losses early on

roll call was over and our warmup assignment was given-

thereby squelching any opportunity for escape.

 

“1 mile loop and then back to the track for stretching” coach bellowed out.

As his word hit my ears, they were quickly drowned out

by the thudding of my heart and my own inner voice.

“1 mile? He seriously wanted us to run 1 mile just as a warmup?!?

I had never even run more than 1/4 of a mile…

There was NO way I could run a mile 

especially as just a warmup! I had signed up to run sprints…

and 1 mile was WAY past the distance of which I believed sprinters should ever have to run!

What was I doing out here anyways?”

 

Looking around, I realized that I was not the only person feeling aghast about the assignment.

Soon, the six of us stragglers, plus a few new additions teamed up and started off

on the ridiculous warmup mile

together.

 

As we ran, we began to talk

and I quickly realized that I was not the only person feeling out of place

but that in reality,

none of the 10 of us really knew or understood why we were there.

Most importantly,

we all equally hated the coach

at that very moment…

sort of a united front

which began the process

of us being tightly knit together.

 

We took our time on our run,

splashing through puddles and working to catch our breath

as we ran up the giant Riverside hill.

As we all ran, awkwardly Jr. High in stature

and completely out of shape,

we all believed that

at any moment, anyone in our group

could drop dead from lack of oxygen.

Even through the excruciating pain,

that 1 mile warm up run

was the first glimmer of hope

in what had been a terribly gloomy day.

 

 

Eventually, the ten of us made our way back to the school

and slipped into the warmup lines

as inconspicuously as possible.

As we began to stretch, the sun began to peek out from behind a cloud,

offering a rare bit of respite

from the brisk wind that was whisking away any sweat

that we had conjured up on our initial run.

I leaned back and allowed the warmth

to envelop my body and provide me a comfort

that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

 

“Katie, Sarah, Jenny, April, Rachel, Elizabeth”

The gruff voice calling out my name snapped me out of my momentary peace

as my reality at hand was once again made evident.

“Before you head off to your events, come see me in the stands”

The warmth I felt on my face  was no longer from the rays of the sun

but instead,

it grew from a place deep within

that was burning with hatred at the man I was to call ‘coach’.

 

*Cont’d tomorrow

 

 

 

 

Passion cont’d…

Slowly, the hum of voices and slamming locker doors

began to diminish.

 

While I appreciated the silence,

I realized that if I didn’t quicken my pace,

I would be the last one out the door

and have all eyes on me

as I walked alone into practice.

 

With a deep breath and new resolve

I quickly threw on my clothes, laced up my new shoes

and pulled my hair back into a ponytail

as I tried to catch up with the last group of girls

walking out of the room.

 

As we made our way over to the team,

I realized that we were already running late

and roll call had begun.

“Jenny Coffman? Jenny?”

“Does anyone know Jenny or if she still plans to join?”

I saw heads start to turn to search the crowd of girls

and my heart dropped into my stomach.

I already knew I didn’t belong out here

and now

I was drawing attention to myself

even before practice had begun.

I picked up my pace and tried to answer

“here” to signal my entry

but all that escaped was an almost inaudible whisper.

“Jenny?”

Realizing that my voice wasn’t heard over the chattering of students,

I waved my arm to signal to the coach that I was indeed present

and ready to join the team,

but instead of checking off my name

and moving along with attendance,

My presence was acknowledged with a stern admonition;

signaling out myself and the five other girls I had

walked up with.

 

“You six. See me after warmups”

Words that made all of the teenage chatter halt

and turn every pair of eyes on our small group

as if we had just entered the room without wearing any clothing.

As my face began to burn

and I diverted my eyes to the ground,

someone bravely spoke up,

 

and answered with a simple

“yes sir”

to which we all accepted and nodded in solidarity.

 

*To be continued

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passion

I fell in love in middle school.

It wasn’t a ‘love at first sight’ type of love

or even a storybook romance

but it is my love story and

 

24 years later,

I can still remember that first time we were introduced

as if it were yesterday.

 

I remember hearing the final school bell ring

and slowly walking to my locker,

pulling the rusty door open and tossing in my books

amidst the crumpled papers of the previous week’s homework.

The hallway bustle began to quiet

as I quickly jammed my backpack full of the necessary

books to complete my nightly assignments.

As I went to close the door,

the drawstring bag hanging on the hook

once again caught my eye.

Stuffed with shoes and clothes,

this bag represented the turmoil in my heart.

I knew I had to make a split second decision and

as I waffled between staying or going,

I let fear win.

 

I snatched the bag off the hook,

slammed the door,

and quickly began to make my way to the bus loading area.

My mind was made up,

I was quitting before I even began.

I decided to listen to the words

I had been hearing my entire life.

The ones that

continually reminded me

that I didn’t measure up

and no matter what I did

I couldn’t be the star I needed to be.

 

My pace quickened

as I realized the hum of the students had vanished

which meant my time was running short.

As I sprinted past the front window

a flash of yellow caught my eye.

I stopped mid stride, my breath caught in my throat

as I watched the first bus began to pull away.

I was too late. I was a minute too late.

Tears filled my eyes as I realized that

 

the decision I thought I had to make

was actually already made for me

and now,

there was no turning back.

 

As I turned and walked back down the hallway,

my heartbeat thumped so loudly in my ears

that I was completely oblivious to the chorus of laughter

coming from the other students still lingering around

until I saw their faces

and knew that they had to be laughing at me.

 

I hung my head and scurried past into the locker room

where I quickly found an unoccupied stall

and let the tears freely fall.

 

 

What had I gotten myself into?

My heart said “give it your best shot”

while my head

screamed obscenities,

and reminded myself of all of the other things I had tried

and failed.

There was no doubt

this would just be another addition to my list

but I had no choice

I was here

and practice was about to begin.

 

*to be continued…