I used to be a bullet.
5th grade. Summer, and piles of sunburned grass littered the school field. What was left after the seasonal mowing was a fresh green turf. My new launchpad.
“Hey, James. I see in gym class, you’re really fast. How’d you like to race for the school?”
Done. A sucker for complements.
One problem: I had asthma.
No matter though, I was a spunky kid and I was set on beating as many other kids as possible. A nasty competitive streak that gets me in trouble 18 years later.
After tryouts, I became the anchor of the relay squad, the fastest on my team in the 100 metre sprint. My friends learned a lesson in humility. I thought my lesson learned was that I was gifted with speed. I didn’t realize I a bigger enemy was coming.
I remember we had to wear yellow pinnys. I hated it. It was just extra fabric hanging off my shirt and bunching up under my arms. It scuffed my confidence. I was a soldier off to battle with a 30 pound backpack and a 15 pound gun in my hand.
I was imaginative.
The main competition in town is held at the university’s stadium. It’s the real deal, obvious by a grandstand filled with cheering elementary school kids and everyone’s relative screaming like they’re watching sharks tearing their children apart.
An arena of scary shit. Another scuff.
There’s nothing so immediately frightening – so nerve-wracking that my eyes blur, chest tremors and feet turn to anvils – than standing behind a line of boys that burst at the crack of a gun towards a horizontal thread in the distance. Then, we were called forward. The A class.
I walked shaking my legs out because my knees were knocking. Looking at the other boys, sizing them up, was getting to be suicide so I looked at my blocks and pushed my feet in, bending into the ready position. My head was just noise. It’s all you hear. Noise.
The push-off. I felt my whole body weight sag into my left leg. And I was down the track, head up, eyes forward, arms pumping, slashing my way past a line of other heads and arms.
My vision bounced with my strides, watering against the wind; snowglobes bumping down moguls.
Running on synthetic rubberized track frees you from feeling like you’re running. Some say it’s like running on clouds, but there’s still a sensation of being propelled forward.
Running on track feels spiritual. Your soul is thrown through the air and your body is just along for the ride. At no time do you think about your body. Just the line.
And the line was there. It was there. And then… it was wrapped around my chest and I was thumping to a halt.
Today, I was walking home from university class, worrying about what felt like a million projects and people relying on me. And my chest tremored. And my feet were anvils.
So, I ran. And I lived.