I was sprinting through the cold spring air, and you’d better believe I was fast. The black ice had just melted off the concrete, the pollen count wasn’t yet climbing, for once I’d taken my inhaler on time. I ducked around the four-square court and between two girls roleplaying as unicorns, shouting, “Sorry!”. It was a mad dash for the playground where, after years of practice, I was the quickest to cross the climbing bridge and those twisty circles all in a row that hung from a bar like the kids inside the jungle-gym. Jacob was on my tail, the kid who somehow had a jaw bordering on “chiseled” in the third grade. Proven third-fastest. And as I scrambled up the ladder, heaving for air, I watched as he turned tail for Micah, leaving me to savor my success.
It was one of the last times I’ve actually ran. Sure, I’ve jogged, plain sprinted a few times when I found myself at the wrong end of a school minutes before my competition round, but not the constant, pounding, if-I-don’t-go-faster-I’m-a-rotten-egg kind of run. Kids stopped liking tag. Therefore, I stopped liking the other kids. I dug into books and podcasts and music in ways I can’t bring myself to regret even a little, but It wasn’t an active lifestyle.
I was at the zero meter line, looking 200 meters down at where the stripe of black tape mocked me. Dread was heavy in my chest and stomach. In my lungs. Coach said to try. The year before, the other coach didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t know we were doing the mile. When I said I needed a warning so I can take my inhaler. I had a black-vision, tear-streaked, not recognizing the sound of my breath through the cheap-harmonica-like wheezing asthma attack right there on the tarmac. Then they believed me. Coach said to try, and by the stars, I was going to try. Even if this was my second attempt at the pacer test this week and everyone around me knew it. The first beep sounds, and I can already feel my lungs closing like a scrunchie someone let fly. I had to step out at 8, less than my first try when I got to maybe 14. Something in the air.
I’m not as jaded towards failure as I should be at my age, finally looking up from my books to see extracurriculars made for readers like me. I acted and spoke, tested, and wrote myself to victory. Never running. Call it my fatal flaw. The thing that comes after “But” when someone brings up my college chances. Jealousy’s coup-de-grâce. The single snigger-worthy trait people found to poke fun at (They clearly didn’t look very hard). I could go on.
My sister gave me a look. One of those side-ways “are you crazy?”s that belong in a funny gifset. She fixed her face fast. “Hard first sport,” she says, “Track.” I nod, looking down at my dinner. Mom made one of those pork-loins I don’t like, but I didn’t cook, so I don’t complain. “Yeah. Forgot I joined it. I need it, though.” I don’t explain that sometimes my head is buzzing so fast I can only stare into space and watch my thoughts bounce around like those “DVD” screensavers. “With how much stress I put myself through doing stuff.” I wave. Stuff is, well, a lot of stuff. “I don’t wanna have a heart attack at twenty-four. I’m scared, but I gotta, i think.” She laughs a little and tells me to drink plenty of water.
The same curiosity that lead me to books is forcing my nose into the concepts of sacrifice and dedication so many athletes subscribe to. The same love for the feeling of air against my face and whistling a merry tune in my ears was enough to make a younger version of me decide people weren’t worth knowing without it.
As terrible as a deadly global pandemic is, it’s given me time I haven’t had before. Time to watch old games (because maybe sports are interesting when I have glasses now and can actually see the ball), time to overcome my fear of asthma attacks, and time to reconnect with the adrenaline-filled piece of a soul in me that is still urging myself faster with Jacob on my tail, eyes on the prize.