“What am I doing here?” I wonder again. “With all these people watching?”
My fourth year of competing in high school, mostly in the half mile, yet here I am, again, just as terrified.
Other runners size me up, shaking legs and jumping in preparation.
Life pauses, hangs. I see nothing but colors and lights. There’s nothing to think about, except the blackness of fear.
The gun fires, jostling me. I leave myself behind, and become a lion.
Ideas of feminism, questions of female strength versus teenage vulnerability, the latest high school drama, all wash away. There’s no time to analyze my identity, social order, or appearance. It’s just this moment. Just this challenge. Intense pressured meditation.
Adrenaline kicks in full force. I am ready to fight and show my worth. A surge of confidence stirs within me, centering me, and I growl; it’s me and you, let’s do this. My competitors are more objects in my way than human beings.
Faces of people in the crowd blurs as I pump my arms, willing my feet to spin faster, faster.
Cheers fade in and out of my awareness. Every second counts.
My coach screams my name,“C’mon!” he yells, waving his arms in a circular motion. “CMON!”
The bell rings, signaling the first person has crossed the line for the final lap. The bell is like a knife stabbed in my back. I dig in.
My legs fly. My form dissolves. It’s just flailing, mostly. Chaotic, focused, persistent, swirling mess of limbs and frazzled ponytails. The only thought on my mind is the finish line That line of judges with their stopwatches becomes my focus, my point of existence. “Get there and then breathe,” I tell myself sternly.
Getting there is all that matters. My body heaves ,strains. Voices combine around me, but all I hear is myself. I’m the only one I can rely on to finish this job. “C’mon. You can do this. Push.”
And then I cross the line, stumbling over, arms propped up from strangers and loved ones, chest heaving.
Nothing matters. I am done. I have finished. My first conscious emotion is of immense relief. Then euphoria. I am invincible. I can do anything now. I can eat anything. I have survived and triumphed.
Until the next race.
Again, I am terrified.
Terrified for days leading up to it. Hours, minutes, watching the clock. Disbelieving I have the guts to run like a possessed lab rat in front of others.
Doubt fades in and out, then horror, terror, then commitment. Then self actualization, relief, euphoria.
Until the next meet.
I never did get used to the fear of racing. But I kept on stepping up to that plate.
Since then, when I take on another risk in life, when I feel that familiar fear and horror wash over me, it brings me back to those countless times, years ago, when I walked up to the track starting line and gave it everything I had.
“I did that,” I remind myself. “I can do it again.” Even if I’m heaving at the end, blood, guts and glory.
The glory, I know, is stepping up to the line, despite the fear. And the first footstep after the gun explodes.
Because once the gun goes off, no one backs off. No one quits. Once the gun pops, our bodies know what to do before our minds register. When our animal self takes over, our human egos can’t hold us back any longer.
The test is who can face up to the fear to step up to the line and wait.