Wait. Be still. Don’t go over the line. Don’t let go. Wait for it. “BANG!” My reactions were precise as I sprung out of the blocks. The sun was beating down on my back as my feet clawed at the blistering, red turf. With every step I took, my toes sunk into the squishy, foul smelling surface, as my lungs grasped for air. Everything felt the way it should as I plunged toward my destination. I clutched the baton in my sweaty palms, promising myself not to let go. My long legs moved me as fast as I could go as I hugged the corner of the line like a little girl hugging her favorite teddy bear. The steps were just like I had practiced. As I came closer to my final steps, my stomach started twisting and my heart beat began to rise. The different colors of arrows started to pass under my feet, and I knew it was time.
“Reach,” I yelled to Susan, whom had seemed unusually far away. Yelling, “Slow down, slow down,” turned into “Stop!”
Susan halted to a stop as the gold baton fell into her hands and she took off into a dead sprint. The devil colored flag rose. We were disqualified from something that we all dreaded; going out of the exchange zone.
I had never really been a part of a team that had a chance to win something, but the potential was always there. I finally got my chance to be a part of such a team my sophomore year of track. Mr. Jones, the head track coach, had decided to experiment with some different races to gain more team points. Since the girls’ team lacked a medley relay, he placed Cindy, Kim, Susan and I in those spots. Cindy would run the 400, Kim would run the 200, and Susan and I would start the race off by each running the 100. We all had worked viciously to earn those spots by running off against our teammates.
Going into the first race we had not expected much since Susan and I had never run this type of race. There were so many crucial things that we had to remember. It wasn’t just to get out of the blocks and burn up the track; there was a baton involved, a certain amount of steps to take, and even a certain way to hold the baton. Being the one chosen to start off the race added a whole list of techniques that I had to master. I could either false start, barely twitch, or drop the baton and lose the race for my teammates, before the race even started.
My first task was to be quick and explosive out of the blocks; I couldn’t leave too early or late. I also had to remember to not let go of the baton, which to me was like a golden egg, and keep it placed in the bottom portion of my palm.
Since I had to run the first leg of the race, I would be running the corner so when I practiced Mr. Jones would yell, “Hug the corner line!”
So every time I ran, my toes would barely brush the white line. If I were to step over that white line, I would disqualify my team. My last task, which always made my heart skip a few beats, was handing the baton to Susan. In the beginning, every time we practiced our hand-off something would go terribly wrong and my brain would fill with frustration and doubt. I would be going too slow, or she would take off to late. Nothing seemed to work for us. Kim, Cindy, Susan and I finally conquered the hand-off monster. We became so good at our hand-offs that Susan wouldn’t even have to look at me; she would just listen to my dull spikes hitting the surface of the black track. Susan, Kim, and Cindy had easily mastered their hand-offs, but that was just practice.
Our first time running the medley was at the Hotchkiss Invitational, and we were really pumped for having the advantage of running on the chunky, black surface that we practiced on every day. Everything went perfect and we easily left our competition in the dust. This became a routine for the crowd to see the shiny red uniform of Cindy Bell leaning towards the finish line, blowing away the competition. We knew early in the season that we were going to state, not only because we met the standards for a pre-qualifying time, but we could taste state every time we received our winning times.
It was the day of the state competition at the Dutch Clark Stadium in Pueblo, Colorado. The weather felt heavenly when we awoke that morning, and we all felt confident that the gold medal was going home around our necks. We had been on fire the day before and had won the prelims, which gave us a little taste of winning. We jogged and did our stretches exactly like we had done before in our past races. Our practice hand-offs had gone precisely like we needed them to.
“Second call for the 3A Girls Medley Relay, second call. Please report to the starting of the 100 meter dash,” called the high pitched voice of the announcer.
The number four had been placed on Cindy’s left thigh, showing that we were the team picked to win the race. As I looked to my left and right, I saw the enormous, long legged girls from the other schools, all with a fierce look on their faces.
We all got in a circle and prayed, “God, please let our feet be on fire today, and please let us go home with the gold. Amen.”
The clapping and stomping from the crowd made my heart beat and my palms sweaty, which meant that it was time.
The short, pudgy man in the bright yellow shirt yelled to the competitors, “Ladies, head to the starting line, and good luck!”
I took one last look at my teammates and headed down the long stretch of track. Everything felt perfect as I slid my black spikes into the starting blocks.
“Runners stand at your blocks……. Set…….. BANG!”
I don’t know how this could have happened. We had warmed up until our muscles were so loose they could separate. Our hand-offs had been precise, and we even prayed. The feeling of being ashamed, embarrassed, and enraged were all bottled up in my mind as I stared at the devil colored flag.
“Lane three has been disqualified,” announced the exchange zone judge in a sincere but stern voice.
I had let my teammates down. The blurry image of three swollen-eyed girls slowly approached me with sincerity and my heart sunk to my feet. We all sat and cried in resentment of the girls who had been victorious. I could feel the eyes of the crowd staring down at me, feeling sorry for the team that ‘could have.’ As I left the stadium that day, my feet dragged on the worn down pavement and my head was held low as the image of the devil colored flag haunted my memory. Yet, in my mind were the words of my father, you win some, and you lose some, but life goes on.