For this Oregon boy, the sun was scorching, and the air was humid. It was an hour before the championship race of the 400-meter hurdles at the NAIA national championships in Marion, Indiana, and I could hardly keep my head on right. He and I were jogging over to the indoor facility to warm-up, and my disoriented thoughts shifted from the race in an hour to all that has happened the past few days. He read my nervousness, and affirmations overflowed as he jogged at my left:
“You’re the best.”
“You know that, right?”
“No one on that track is faster that you.”
I believed him, sort of. He’s my confidence when I don’t have any. Right before I’m about to slip away, he keeps me grounded, but as I tried to focus, I couldn’t get over the fact that he should be in this race with me.
The day before, he was rounding the end of the final curve the first heat of the semi-finals, and I just finished setting up my starting blocks for my heat to come.
Coming into the semi-finals, he was ranked third, I was ranked first, and our main competition was sandwiched between us in second. I came into the semi-finals knowing I just needed to make it to the final round, not an ounce of nervousness touched me.
Watching from my starting blocks, he came out fairly slow. He has this energy reserve for the last half of the race, and I waited confidently for it. He picked up his pace and moved from fifth place in the race to second and started chasing down our main competition who was in first.
I lost him behind the bodies that occupied the throwing event arena, and then moments later, I saw his body laying on the track. He hit a hurdle and went down. That’s when anxiety hit me. “We’re gonna go one, two. I don’t care what order, but we’re going one, two,” he’d been saying all season, but now, I realized it might only be me that runs in that championship race.
Pulling my hair and cringing, I turned to a teammate in the crowd who I had talked with earlier. By the time I had turned around, he had gotten back up trying to catch all who had passed him. He lost too much in the fall and couldn’t make it back into the race to qualify for the next round.
I wish I could have switched places with him. I much rather have my teammates perform well rather than myself, but it didn’t seem like that was going to happen. A teammate who could have easily finished in the top 5 for her heptathlon made a slight mistake and got disqualified. Another teammate had a bad first day in the two-day decathlon event, far from what he had done before. Another teammate has been on her way to the 2012 Olympics but has been battling injuries the last two years and fought for her opportunity to make it to nationals and get tenth. Now, my partner-in-crime for the hurdles wouldn’t be coming with me to the championship race.
Before the race, I wondered, “Why me? Why should I make it to this position, this opportunity? They deserve it so much more than I do.”
I ran for those who deserved it, for those who worked hard and yet missed this opportunity, but what I accomplished isn’t solely my own. Without the deserving, without you, my determination would be faltering. Your efforts pushed me to do my best, and whatever happened was because of you. I wasn’t running. We were running.
We often forget the power of influence in our lives. I could not have made it to where I am without the people in my life. God gave me a gift, and my coaches cultivated it, making it stronger than it would have been any other way. You, my friends, encouraged me to offer my best, walking or maybe even running with me along the way.
We are compilations of the people in our lives, and the impact from others is incredible. The times when we win and the times when we’re lost, people are there, nudging us and telling us that we can do it. There are the few who break us down, but we can’t neglect the significance of those relationships where others tell us that there’s more that we don’t see. Unfortunately, we lack the ability to calm our minds and listen to the voices saying, “You have this. Keep going. Don’t slack off. You’re better than you think you are.” They’re there, but we have to stop yelling over them.
Thank you all for whispering in my ear. Whether you told me I could do it, gave me good conversation, or showed me what I couldn’t see, who I am is composed of each of you. We did it. We won nationals… and so much more.
I’m proud of you.