“Your relay needs to get at least a five second record today in order for us to win the sectional title. The rest of us ran hard earlier and now you have to run harder than you ever have before, run like Usain Bolt, and leave it all on the track or you’ll lose the title.” This is what our captain told my underclassmen relay right before our race began. Getting a two second group record that day would have been amazing since we’d been running, training, and competing for months. The mere thought that we needed to get a five second record was ludicrous, but we couldn’t afford to acknowledge that fact. We needed to suppress the reality closing in and go out and do it. When our captain, Alyssa, left us to finish our drills, I looked at my relay and saw determination in their faces, but I could not overlook the nervous tension underlying the tough facade. I knew we could not go out and expect to win like this, so I said, “We CAN do this. Our team trusts us and we need to exceed their expectations and win this thing!”
The announcer, garbled over the speakers, then said, “Last call for the four by four, last call.” With all the other relays, we jogged over to the infield next to the start. We looked around at the other teams and saw all seniors who had been running this race for years. I had never felt so small and underqualified as when I stood next to them with the rest of my underclassmen relay. Two of the girls from the other teams had even qualified for the state meet in the 400m dash.
I was the starter for my relay, so I was sent to line up with the other teams on the start line. It wasn’t cold, but I was covered in goosebumps. My heart was racing even though I hadn’t even started yet. This race was what would determine the title, and my team had put me, an average sophomore, as the starter for this race. I was determined not to fail, but I was also terrified that I would not measure up and lose the title for my whole team. At this moment I remembered my sister Charlotte. She had always run the 400m and she had run it as if the world was on fire. Once she ran a state qualifying time after being spiked on her leg and having blood pour down her leg while she ran. This was the same determination I needed at this moment.
I was brought back to the track when the official yelled, “Ready!” and a second later the gun went off with a “BANG!” I shot out of the start line, straight through the smell of gunpowder.
The sounds of the crowd and the teams faded into nothing; I could only hear my thoughts saying, “Run. Like. Charlotte. Run. Like. Charlotte.” I felt my arms pumping, feet pounding, heartbeat racing. About a hundred meters into the race, my legs began to burn since I started out significantly faster than I always did in races. Out of nowhere Alyssa’s face appeared right next to mine. Her voice broke through the foggy mute and I heard her shouting at me to “Run Sarah! Faster than this!! You have to move your legs faster! Come on! GO GO GO!!!” I knew I had no choice but to pump my legs faster than they had ever gone before. And faster.
By the time I got to the 250m, my legs were screeching for me to STOP and JUST QUIT but I knew I was absolutely not allowed to listen to them. It no longer mattered that I was pushing my body past its limits, I needed to pass the girls from the other teams in order to win. Turning the last corner, I saw Maddie. Somehow she screamed louder than my legs and she was screaming at me to go, not stop. I only had a hundred meters left so I knew I needed to leave every ounce of strength and energy on the track because nothing mattered after this last stretch.
My vision narrowed so that I could only see my teammate Kelly at the end waiting to take the baton from me. I could just barely sense the crowd and the team going wild on both sides, but I could only see straight in front of me. Everything else was black. I couldn’t even feel my body anymore, it had gone completely numb from the extreme pain. I forced my legs to move even faster and finally, finally, I passed off the baton to Kelly. I saw her start to sprint, and I knew I no longer had any control over the result.
The official pushed me off of the track for the other girls to run by, and I made it about four feet before I fell over, wheezing, not seeing or comprehending anything, and crying. The world was black, my legs were on fire, my lungs weren’t working anymore, but I was elated. I knew I had run like Charlotte, I knew I gave my all, I knew I had done my best.
After what felt simultaneously like an eternity and a single second, I could see again and my legs were beginning to respond to my commands. I used the drops of energy my body was creating to force myself to sit up and face the track. I then watched as Megyn, our anchor, crossed the finish line. . . right in front of the next girl, and significantly in front of the other teams. We won the race. I could not believe my eyes that we won the race. Not only did we win though, we cut seven seconds off of our previous best time. We had exceeded the seemingly impossible goal we had been given.
Alyssa, Maddie, and a couple dozen of our teammates came sprinting over from their spots around the track where they had cheered for us. Still weak from my race, I was easily knocked over when Alyssa tried to hug me in her excitement. I was then surrounded by my relay: the girls who had given everything they had to run a race. The smell of fresh sweat wrapped around me with the girls I was hugging. It was the smell of victory.