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Sweat, soiled by dust and tears, seeped down my body as I thrust myself forward. With every breath, my lungs collapsed on themselves. While oxygen poured in through my gaping mouth, I still craved more air. Foot after foot, I trampled down the grassy hill amongst a crowd of runners too absorbed with their own race to pay me heed. Each runner carried a look of determination that felt noticeably absent from my face. Seconds into the race, the cruel grasp around my throat clenched harder with every pounding step. My muscles, which usually respond to my commands with an ardent desire, began to droop with weight and scream with pain as they lifted my exhausted legs. Groups of parents surrounded me, cheering on their little runners, but no one cried my name.
As the race endlessly continued, the cheers of eager parents slurred into the fog of my mind. I stopped noticing the rusty, battered playground on my right and the infinite expanse of forest on my left; I only saw the battered dirt that lay before my feet. Step after step after step, I fought ahead against the furious desires of my flesh. The other runners, whom I once trailed by a thread, now pulsed forwards at a pace that I could no longer match. Recognizing my solitude, I cleared the haze occupying my thoughts long enough to realize the significance of my situation. I was last.
With this thought, the fog of fatigue and confusion violently settled inside my head as my body lost its focus. Without a sound, my body crumpled behind a large green shed beside the path. A boy and his mother walking by paused for a moment, gave me a look of concerned curiosity, then continued with their conversation as they walked away from me. After a few moments of darkness, the sun’s bright rays filtered through my squinted eyelashes, igniting a small flame of awareness within my mind. With hesitant fear, I picked myself up, brushing flecks of dirt from my uniform. I slowly stumbled towards the tent where my team would gather after they finished the race.
Driven by fear and apprehension, I approached my coach, while wiping away the muddled tears. I failed to meet his expectations; I failed to finish the race; I failed myself.
Two years later, I perched on the edge of the starting line, quivering like an arrow. Over a hundred other anxious runners stood beside me. As the gun sounded, my body lunged forwards ahead of the other racers. Unlike the previous race, my mind focused on the path before me. Bend after bend, my legs pounded forward, churning like machines. I darted around the other runners that spotted the trail ahead of me. Occasionally I glanced at them, their faces twisted into demented scowls from the agony of running. My opponents’ weakness added fuel to my body as I blitzed onward. After a few minutes, I passed by the fateful green shed. With a brief grin and a silent shout, I surged ahead, digging energy from my newfound confidence.
At the one mile marker, the race assistant yelled out my time: “Five forty-six!” I was halfway done. I forced my mind to concentrate on the race at hand, ignoring the distractions around me. The trail meandered into the forest, and the soil gradually grew darker. Ahead, the path rounded an open-air barn then looped backward. As I rounded the horse stables, I began to pass by my teammates. Instead of shouting out words of encouragement, we would exchange glances and nods of approval to save our breath, then continue running. Steadily, the end of the race approached. Realizing this, I began to accelerate, passing more runners in the process.
As I approached the finish line, a crowd of parents and team mates gathered to cheer me on. Cries of “Go Henry!” and “You’re almost there” filled my ears as I clambered to the end. My body bordered on collapsing as I passed through the gate, which read “12:02.” The racing staff herded me past the gate and through the line of flags behind it. A woman handed me a small, ripped piece of white paper. Coughing, I staggered out of the chute and fell down onto the grassy lawn a few feet away. There was only one number written on the piece of paper — 3rd– a personal triumph of body and mind that marked my significant improvement.
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