It is truly amazing how much we focus energy into places. We go back to childhood when we see that park we loved going to. We chuckle to ourselves when we drive by that house we egged in high school. We remember the most mundane memories when we see the house we grew up in.
However, there is that disappointment when we don’t see our old swing set. We feel let down when the house we thought we knew is torn down or renovated. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to get teary eyed as I type this.
Running track in high school changed my life. No joke. I started my freshman year an ubergeek/nerd/dork and had a fobbish flair. I was 5’2” and weighed 103 pounds. I lacked confidence. I felt awkward doing anything athletic. To skirt around taking PE for two years, I decided to join the track team. It’s running. In a circle. Easy.
What ended up happening was that I was able to focus all those frustrations into running in circles. The fact that track and field encompasses so many events also allowed me to explore what I might be good at. Of course, I ended up liking the hardest event everyone else shied away from. Partly because there was little competition, partly because I really liked the challenge.
Hurdling,freshman year, I was sloppy. I looked like a wounded ibex jumping over rocks to save its life. But hey, I kept at it. People couldn’t believe it. It got me the “most inspirational” trophy that year. At the track banquet, my coach called me “the little engine that could”.
Because of the fact that it was an older team the previous year, when I came back as a sophomore , I somehow became captain. Me. Somehow. Luckily, I had a real hurdling coach that year too. Despite the fact I ate it every meet, it didn’t matter: I was being accepted by a large group my age and I liked that. It made me speak up. I kinda had to. I was captain.
Junior year, I resumed my role as captain. With a bigger squad. A faster, bigger squad. Yet, despite the fact that there were a lot more people faster than I was, my teammates still gave me the respect, cheer, and comraderie that I felt I didn’t quite deserve. When some of you wonder why it is that I make sure you know how much I appreciate the things you do, know that it is because I never told my teammates how much I loved their support. (Mind you that back then, I was cocky, loud, annoying, and a eccentric smart ass outside of track. Think it still holds true, actually)
Senior year, I couldn’t ask for more. Third year as captain. This time a lot of pride was instilled by that post. It was well known that I might not have been the fastest runner on the squad but when you’re reffered to as “the soul of the team” you kinda become important. To my surprise, the number of hurdlers grew like crazy that season. I got to train an understudy. People I never talked to said hi to me in the hall. I was still a dork but now I was a dork with flair. Hell, I got an amazing scholarship when I was done with high school, right?
Why bother telling you my relationship with track? Because renovations are about to start taking place on that red dirt circle. That place where I came back to coach the largest squad I’d ever seen in Gundo and even saw one of my athletes medal at state is about to be excavated and replaced with rubber and astroturf.
Though I know it’s for the better, a part of me is afraid the part of my soul that went into that track will disappear. I’m going to miss the grit under my feet as I run on it. I mean, I accepted the fact rocks were cutting into my knees at the start of every race, that the huge mud puddle on the southwest corner would form for any reason fathomable, and the ambiguity of what markers meant what during every race. It was my track. I loved it because of all its imperfections. I learned to work around it. I literally have poured my blood into that dirt ring. I really feel I left a part of who I am there.
***It’s been months since I wrote the first part of this post. Indeed, what used to be a track is now a muddy wasteland. I have a jar of red dirt at a fellow teammates house that I need to pick up. Does it feel like a part of me is still there? Not quite. However, the beauty is I’ve accepted that my time has come and gone. A new group of punk teenagers will make their own memories and mature on the new red, rubber ring. I’m ok with this. Circle of life.