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I heard the final call for my race. By now I should have been done with my warm up jog and run-outs and heading over to the check-in tent, spikes in hand, ready to run the 3200 meter race at the State Championship meet. Instead of pinning on my race number and taking my place at the starting line, however, I was sitting on the top row of the bleachers, watching the race from the farthest point away in the stadium. The first thing that ran through my mind was excuses: I had put everything I had into the 4x800m relay earlier in the day, finishing my leg seven seconds faster than I had ever ran before, and promptly throwing up after I handed off the baton. I had a gold medal to show for that effort, wasn’t that enough? My mile race an hour ago was embarrassing enough, coming in ranked third and finishing seventh. What would be the point of sprinting eight laps just to be disappointed again?
The regret of what I had done hit me before the race even started. When the final call rang out through the stadium, I wanted so badly to grab my spikes and take my place at the starting line. Instead, the missing hip number in the line-up of girls at the starting line agonized me. What opportunity had I thrown away? Had I not, just a week earlier at the Regional Championships, fought my way out of fifth place – only the top four would move on – for the entire race just to get the chance to wear that sticker here, right now? What opportunity had I stolen from the fifth place finisher, who was probably sitting at home while the spot she had tried so hard to obtain was sitting empty?
I can’t say for sure what caused me to quit, to give up right then and there. I was exhausted, not just from my previous races but from the whole season, my junior year in general. The fact that the amount of miles I ran over the year was more than double the hours that I had slept surely had something to do with that. But at the same time, wasn’t this the very thing that I loved most about running – finding that strength to push myself through the last 100 meters when I have absolutely nothing left? I had let the fear of failure, of finishing the race in the back of the pack or not finishing at all, keep me from even trying. By doing this, I had also forgotten the most important lesson that running has ever taught me about life: that if you just keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other no matter how exhausted you are or how much pain you’re in, you will always get to the finish line.
Even though I knew that there would be other races, a whole new year to prove to myself, to my coach, and to my parents who had come to out to watch me that this one race wasn’t going to define my whole running career, it still upset me, not because of any missed title or medal, but because of the extent to which it went against all the values that I had once prided myself on. Strength, endurance, perseverance – these are the values that, as a runner, I want to be at the core of who I am. I have moved past the disappointment of that day, but I have not forgotten the lesson I learned. Never again do I want to find myself sitting on the bleachers; no matter what, from here on out I’ll always take my place at the starting line. Nothing is worth the shame of knowing you could have but didn’t.
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