Sunday, 14 November 2010

How I started running

I wasn't a very active kid. My family was more academically inclined and the only sport we enjoyed was watching basketball on TV.

One day, when I was in 6th grade, we were told by our teachers that our school would participate in an athletics competition against other schools in town. No more details than that. What followed was a frenetic attempt to find who the best pupils were in a multitude of athletic events: long jump, shot put, long distance etc. How long the long distance was, I cannot remember. What I do remember is that we had to run around the school building once or twice, and that I was out of breath after running a hundred meters. I just wasn't long distance material.

Short distance, on the other hand, that's where I shone. Or almost shone. What follows is an embarrassing story about how I stole another girl's thunder.

Each class's pupils were to race against each other, to find out who the fastest boy and girl were. We were 4 classes in every grade, and the 4 best would form a relay team. When it was my class's turn, all the girls lined up to run a 50 meter course.

I knew I couldn't win. I had never thought of myself as athletic, let alone fast. The fastest girl in our class, in the whole school even, was a girl named Stephanie. Stephanie was 2 meters tall, or at least it felt that way. She had long, slim legs, that could probably cover half the school yard in one small leap. I didn't stand a chance.

Our teacher stood with a whistle in his hand. We kneeled down to starting position. The tension was palpable. Our anticipation grew with each passing second. Stephanie was next to me. I could hear her breathing, completely focused. Although I couldn't win next to such a gazelle, I didn't plan on coming in last either.

The teacher blew the whistle. What happened next was unfathomable. I shot forward towards the fence that served as the finish line. At the same time I caught a movement to my right, an event that seemed to unfold in slow motion. Stephanie, the school champion, had tripped over her long, slim legs, and fallen. I kept running. The fence seemed to be miles away.

I won. Not in the fairest way, but I won. I couldn't understand at that point what that entailed, but I was happy. Granted, my happiness was mixed with guilt. But I was going to run in a competition!

The competition day came. Our school had obviously not taken it very seriously, because we had hardly trained for any of these athletic events, and also: no one told me before we arrived at the stadium that I'd be representing our school in the 50-meter race. I just thought I'd be in the relay team. My dad offered some encouraging words. I saw some kids running up and down the stairs by the stands, and for some reason it seemed like a good idea at the time. It would probably make me super fast if I managed to run up all the stairs.

It didn't. I came in 5th out of 7 in our district. I wondered if Stephanie would have won.

Then it was time for the relay race, and I was to run the last leg. I saw how my classmates ran like the wind, and how by the time the baton was in my hand we had a comfortable lead. All I had to do was run the last 50 meters as fast as I could. And I did, and we won, and I was over the moon with happiness.

That was my short career in athletics. I wanted to continue running, but, as I said, my family wasn't much into sports, and my mom (who worked in a hospital) had many horror stories she'd gladly tell us about people who exercised, whose hearts stopped or got too big. Exerting yourself is bad for your health. That and a minor health scare some years later put a stop to running. I wasn't to return to it until 10 years later, as a grown-up, who could do her own research into how "dangerous" exercise is. But that story is for another time.

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