It’s my freshman year of high school and I am ready to try out for the varsity football team. I was travelling between countries, so I missed training and ended up rushing through my warmup. Predictably, I pulled my hamstring on the first round of forty-yard dashes.
I would miss the entire football season, and seemingly my last chance for earning a letter before spring sports began. I was able to win the Freshman Student Council Treasurer election (by a landslide!) and one of my fellow councilpersons was this rather studious chap named Glenn. If Glenn would not go on to become my teammate, I would characterize him as somewhat of a geek.
But boy could fly like the wind.
One day Glenn comes up to me and asks me if I ever ran track before.
“No, man. Truth be told, I’m not all that fast.”
“Have you ever tried running cross-country?” he pushed me. Look, Mark, here is the story. We need to have seven runners on our team to be eligible to complete against the other high schools. We only have six.”
His gaze told me the rest of the story. He sealed the deal when he told me I would automatically earn my letter even if I finished last in every race.
So I’m thinking, how hard can this be?
So I had the chance to be the saviour of the team and get my letter jacket in one fell swoop.
I showed up to practice and I was the MAN. All the runners were very grateful to me so that they could do what they train for all-year long, run long-distance races.
Practice was simple.
We started at the Air Force Base ballfields and ran to the next town, which was twelve miles one way.
Then we ran back.
I did it exactly one time. I saw that the coach was following behind us in his car, stopping for beers while we ran back, and then he would drive back and meet us.
Basically, I broke training, content with my spot on the long-distance running totem pole. I actually managed only one last-place finish, coming in as high as 10th in one race (out of 14 runners).
I felt no pressure at all and was OK with being the runner that qualified the team for play. My plan was going along fine, our team finished a respectable 5th out of 10 teams at the Regional Finals.
The top 4 teams qualified for the big prize: The European Finals.
Here is how my worst nightmare unfolded:
It is a soggy, muddy day when the race started. It got rainier and muddier as the race continued. All the runners in front of me had finished except one lone runner from our school rivals. The last 100 yards of the cross-country race was completed across the football stadium in front of the large crowd. We both rounded the street leading to the football field and we both hit the wet field in stride. It was a dead heat. The winner sends his team to the European Finals.
This was a big deal.
I just had to beat this one guy.
He beat me by 27 yards.