This piece is about my running journey. It details how I started it and what it means to me.
It’s the last event of the meet: the 4 by 400 meters.
This is the distance that athletes at both ends of the distance spectrum have equal claim to, and this is the race where they can team up. Our entire team spreads out along the track, making sure that there is no place where our teammates won’t hear our cheers. My races finished earlier in the day and I’m watching our school's fastest runners working in unison, pounding the track with inexorable might. Their feet blur as they race past the starting line. A deafening roar of applause erupts with each lap, surging through the crowd like a tidal wave. Even if we didn’t win the title of fastest, we definitely won the title of loudest with our spirited screams.
This was my team.
But it hadn’t always felt like it.
I remember walking for the first time toward the worn, unassuming field, mask-clad and nervous. I was a new kid in a new school in a new city playing a new sport. Not exactly sure where to go, I became a remora, looking for someone to latch onto before a group of what seemed to be my new cross-country teammates started to take shape nearby.
Before I knew it, we started running. My quarantine-weakened legs were poorly oiled machines, rusted over and squeaking at every step, shadows of their former soccer glory. I constantly intercepted the beads of sweat rolling down my forehead with the back of my hand, as a layer of moisture began to wrap around the rest of my body. My new peers all passed me. It seemed like they each had an invisible rope pulling them forward; my rope was pulling me back. I tried to concentrate solely on the feet in front of me, but the rhythmic cacophony generated by the stampede of runners quickly broke my focus. I gasped for air like a drowning man, while my peers floated silently beyond me.
I felt like I had run more in that practice than I had in my entire life. A deep antipathy for running boiled inside of me, fueled by the pain in my legs and the embarrassment of being slow. The isolation of being at the back of the pack only intensified my feelings. But despite my anger, I resolved to attend the next practice, knowing well that my determination would overpower the reluctance of my limbs.
A few weeks in, a new coach suggested I try sprinting. I was starting over again, but this time my peers and I were in the same boat. I felt encouraged. Whether it was to finish the last push-up, do the last set, or run the final lap, my peers brought out the last drops of strength I didn’t know I had. I kept up with the team and saw myself improving alongside everyone else. I was part of the running family, woven into the fabric of our school's history.
Now, two years later, I stand on the sidelines, looking around at those same people. As our runners win the race, I join the whole team as we swarm the field like a school of frenzied fish, shouting and cheering. The smell of turf and sweat intensifies with every second. I am near the center, feeling the force of every teammate happily crashing into our celebratory pod. I am four limbs in a mass of arms and legs. I am a small laugh in a symphony of cheers. I am a fish in a school. All of my peers, with different races and different goals, become one shapeless blur. Under the evening sky, we are a sea of purple jerseys and bright running shoes.