By Kayleigh Nadal
As the gun went off and I jumped back in fright, I knew there was no way this was going to end well. I started running, praying my height and lack of practice wouldn’t work against me. Spoiler Alert: it did.
The day prior, I was just about to start my forced six lap “warm up” around the track. As someone who signed up for track, I didn’t expect for there to be that much running involved. I was still angry at my mom for signing me up for this dumb sport. Who in their right mind would want to sprint around the track while the brisk spring air slaps you in the eyes, nose, and ears, and you’re wheezing due to your lack of ability to remember to take your inhaler for fun? Anyone who knows both my mom and me always felt the need to comment that I talk, look, and act like just like her. My mom was a runner; then by default, I too, was a runner.
That Thursday, during the 7th and 8th grade Boys and Girls Modified Track team practice (yes, I know, could they have picked any longer of a team name), I decided to cut my warm up a little short. My six not-so-victorious laps turned into a nice four lap jog. All I could think about was how excited I was to wear my track tank top to school on Friday, and how much I did not want to be running. Once my mile warm up was completed, it was time to practice our running events.
Yesterday, I had learned that long distance was not for me, and I was more of a sprinter. Short, fast, and to the point. I marched past the long distance runners, pitying all those poor souls who would have to spend the next 45 minutes to an hour dragging themselves through the long, dark, scary hallways and corridors of High School East. I came to a halt when I was at the back of the line for the sprinters and waited until it was my turn to give it a go. I came in second out of four in the 100 meter dash, and instantly knew I was destined to be a sprinter. As the next hour went by, all I could think about was how much time was left of practice. From the back of the long line, I wasn’t actually listening to what the coaches had to say about “fixing our form” and “getting meet-ready”. I just kept checking my brand new, pink-and-white Garmin running watch, counting down the minutes until I could leave.
My coach hollered at all his future Olympic runners to get their attention. We were now going to begin training for the events portion of the meet. As soon as he said this, a feeling of nervousness and worry overcame me. What event was I going to pick?
Shot put? Too heavy.
Discus? Too much like frisbee, which I wasn’t good at.
Long jump? Too long of a line.
Hurdles? Ah, perfect!
I decided it would be a great time to start my hurdle career. I was determined it was the track and field event for me. How difficult could it be; all you had to do was run up to the thing and jump! I had always jumped over rain puddles as a kid, and during track unit in 7th grade physical education, I nailed the hurdles each time. I had this in the bag. Or so I thought. I walked myself over to the small handful of kids in line for the hurdles and waited in the short line. Why were there so few people in the line? Did anyone know this was the easiest event? Run, jump, don’t hit hurdle, repeat. It was my turn, and I was confident I was going to show the other 2 girls how it was done.
“On your mark, get set, GO!” the coach yelled as he blew his plastic blue whistle. I took off, soaring over each of the 4 hurdles. I came in first as I knew I would. P.E. class hadn’t failed me, and now I was a seasoned pro. I walked to the back of the line with a newfound confidence as if to say, “Yeah, I just did that. You can watch me do it again Friday at the meet.” I did this a few more times, but I didn’t place first each time. Some turns I wound up in first, some last, but at the end of practice, I was full of optimism that I would be Shen’s new and upcoming hurdle star.
I was chauffeured home by my father, and I eagerly told him about how well I did today practicing the hurdles. “They always seem to be super tall and scary, but once I tried them, I realized how low they actually were and how easy it was!” I exclaimed, not understanding why my dad was so confused. Was he not able to comprehend his 5 foot 0 inch daughter was more than capable of running and clearing each and every hurdle? Weird. When I got home, I sprinted (always practicing) to my room and ripped my forest green top off the plastic hanger and laid it out on my carpet with my favorite pair of Nike running shorts, my brand new running sneakers I had failed to remember to pack the night before for today’s practice, and my favorite blue-and-purple-striped sports bra. I was going to let everyone know I was on the track team, and today was the day of a meet.
I woke up, threw on my track uniform, put my hair in a ponytail, and headed out for school. All day I couldn’t concentrate on how to make decimals into fractions, the nervous system and how it works, or the Latin passage I was supposed to be translating. In retrospect, I probably should have at least tried in Latin, since I wasn’t a strong Latin scholar back then and never liked learning the ancient language. One of my track friends was in my class, so we each threw our Latin folders into our backpacks and put away the textbooks our teacher insisted we have everyday for class, and talked about how excited we were for after school.
The rest of the day was agonizing. Like practice the day before, school never seemed to end. But then a miracle happened. It was 3:35, and school was finally over for the week. Students were dismissed to go home, but not me. No. I was dismissed for the sole purpose of bringing this school a victory. Hours passed, and it was now time to go to the High School East outdoor track to show off my skills to everyone at school and their relatives.
I honestly couldn’t tell you what race I ran that day, or what place I had earned. The only thing that I was looking forward to was the hurdles. That race was one of the first events to take place, so, luckily, no one had left the stadium yet. Perfect. Everyone would be able to watch me win in glory.
I got in my starting position. Something was wrong. Was I at the wrong race? No. Did I take my inhaler? No, but that’s besides the point. The hurdles. Why are they so much taller? Just the day prior, the bar of the hurdle was as tall as my upper thigh, making it easy to clear. But these… these hurdles were way past my hip. Oh no. But it was too late. The starting gun had been shot into the air, and it was time to go. I don’t remember much of the race. Not because of the anticipated adrenaline, but for the sole purpose of never wanting to remember it again. Out of five hurdles, I successfully made it over three, falling on the first and last ones. I placed last, and both my knees were bleeding to no avail. My track career, which I had put my blood, sweat, tears and one day of practice into, was dead, just like my dignity.
Once I crossed the finish line, I was carried and placed onto a Shen golf cart, and rushed to the makeshift Shen ER, which consisted of the ambulance truck, Rick the trainer, and an abundance of Bandaids, ice, and gauze. They bandaged me up like a UPS package and sent me on my way. I went home crying that day, embarrassed of what had just occurred. My parents both agreed that I didn’t have to return to practice Monday or ever again. Not because I fell over the hurdles, but because I never found it fun to begin with (and the fact that I fell over the hurdles). My mom was there to comfort me, while my dad sat in the driver’s seat silently chuckling to himself. What he failed to tell me until about two months ago was that he caught this whole experience on video, saved in the archives until I would be able to laugh about it.
After many years of trying to forget about this horrific incident, I eventually started to not be ashamed of it anymore; instead, I was proud. Yes, I did fall over the hurdles. Yes, I did place last. And yes, I never went to another track practice, but I like to focus on the more important part. I picked myself up after each fall, and finished the race.