For my Dream Big blog post, I decided to share a story about a dream that came true for me waaaaay back when I was in the seventh grade. Growing up, my mom tried to encourage my sisters and me to be active, and to use our imaginations instead of spending all our free time plastered to the TV. By encourage, I mean she created a house rule that proclaimed for every hour of TV we wanted to watch, we had to go outside and run for an hour first. Like any thirteen-year-old girl my age, I could not survive week to week without my fill of Beverly Hills, 90210. So I ran.
Shortly after my mom implemented this rule, I tried out for the school track team. It made sense to get my hour of running over with directly after school, and I had high hopes that running with friends would make the time go by faster.
At tryouts, the coaches labeled me a distance runner (this probably had something to do with the fact that I finished dead last in my heat of the 100-meter dash). Despite the fact that distance running meant I had to cover a lot more ground, I didn't mind. Our coach sent us off school grounds to run, and didn't come with us, which meant I could take walking breaks without getting caught. The Rec Center was also across the street from the school, so I'd often wander in, take a nice long water break, and rest for a couple minutes on a bench. I didn't work very hard, but I wasn't there to win. I was there to fill my running quota. I was there so I could watch 90210.
The day of our first track meet, my coach told me I'd be running the mile. As I set my toe on the starting line, I realized I didn't have anywhere to sneak off for water breaks. Plus, if I stopped to walk, the whole world was going to see. Suddenly I wished I'd worked a little harder at practice. The gun sounded, and we were off. Four laps around the track, and by the third, I'd already been lapped by the stronger, faster runners. I couldn't believe how pathetic I was. I was letting other people lap me! They were finishing the race, and I still had a fourth of the race to complete. As I started the fourth lap, I looked behind me and felt a stab of humiliation as I realized there was nobody left behind me. I was dead last! By the time I pulled across the finish line, runners were already lining up for the next race. Everyone was staring, but nobody was cheering. It was one of the most humiliating days of my life.
Later that night, when I was alone in my bedroom, I had the thought: What if I could be as fast as the girl who won the race? The thought carried me off to sleep. The next day at practice, when our coach sent us on our distance run, I didn't walk. Even though I wanted to – badly – and even though my lungs and legs were burning, I forced myself to keep going. I wanted to know what it felt like to cross the finish line first, and I knew in order to get there, I was going to have to work hard. Not only work hard, but I was going to have to work harder than everyone else. I had to go from dead last, to numero uno.
The team practiced Monday through Friday, but while everyone else took the weekends off, I strapped on my running shoes every Saturday and Sunday, and clocked extra miles. Week after week I did this. By the end of the track season, I'd shaved almost two minutes off my mile time. At the final meet, I came in fourth place. It felt good, but not good enough. I couldn't stop dreaming about what it would feel like to finish first.
The summer between seventh and eighth grades, I continued running. Every morning before my babysitting job, I woke up early and ran five miles. There was a time when I would have chosen death over the prospect of running five consecutive miles, but my body grew used to it. Five, six, seven miles became no problem.
When track tryouts came around my eighth grade year, I once again joined the team. I continued to work hard at practice, and diligently ran on the weekends. At the first meet, I placed third! I was in the top three! It was such an amazing feeling. It was proof that, with hard work, I could accomplish what had seemed impossible. The runner who placed second, just ahead of me, was a new girl on my team, a seventh-grader named Bree. After the race, I asked her if, like me, she'd trained in the off-season. She told me no; she was just naturally good at running. My first impulse was to feel jealousy, but the crazy thing was, it actually felt good knowing I'd finished in the top three because I'd worked hard. Cause and effect had never felt so good.
Of course, I hadn't quite reached my dream. My dream was to finish in first place, and it was going to be harder than I thought. Since Bree was on my team, she would be at every single meet I was at for the rest of the season. And she was a natural. She could beat me without trying. Holding onto my dream, I told myself this merely meant that I had to work harder than I already was.
The final meet of the season was in my hometown, at the high school track. The stands were full of parents, including my mom. When it came time for the mile race, I took my place on the starting line, with Bree beside me. She'd finished ahead of me at every other meet we'd had this season, usually beating me by one place, or, in other words, only a handful of seconds. Still, those two or three seconds were the difference between winning, and coming in second.
The gun sounded, and we were off.
I still remember rounding the final curve of that race, the final 100 meters, and seeing my mom rise from her seat in the stands, screaming my name, along with the chant Run! Run! Run! I was in first place, but I could hear the slap of shoes and short, determined breaths right behind me. I didn't have to look back to know Bree was moving up on my right, trying to pass me as we came in to the finish line. The only thought drumming in my head was that if I gave up now, I'd never reach my dream. I had to give more than I ever had, and I had to give it now. When Bree moved up beside my shoulder, I fastened my eyes on the finish line and ran harder than I had all season.
To me, it seemed like we must have crossed the finish line at the same time. It was such a close race, I couldn't tell who'd won. Our coach was at our sides in an instant, hugging us and congratulating us on finishing one and two. He'd congratulated us on finishing one and two more than once in the season. The difference was, this time, he looked at me and, grinning wide, said, “I guess today, Becca wanted it more.”