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Second Place - "Breaking 16"

2002 Anne Horton Writing Award

2nd Place

"Breaking 16"


Jamie L. Sanders


I stood at the line. The cold wind blew onto my face, but nervous sweat dripped from my forehead. My fists were clenched and adorned with black gloves. I jumped up and down, trying to shake the nerves away and stay warm. I tried my hardest to focus on my upcoming race and not on what was going on around me. I heard people chattering, and the wind carried their voices. My coach came over, put his hand on my shoulder, andgave me a pep talk, but what he said, I did not hear; I was focused on proving him wrong.My thoughts drifted to the conversation he and I had had two days previously. He had said I could never break 16 minutes this early in the season. His lack of confidence in me did not destroy my determination. I shook my head at these thoughts and tried to focus on my upcoming race. Before I knew it, the starter was by the line. His orange jacket made him stand out from the others.


He spoke the words I had heard again and again, "Two commands, folks -- onyour marks, and then I will sound the gun. Any questions?"


I looked at the girl on my right. She sure looked like a runner. She was of average height with long legs and a tiny yet muscular build. 1 started to compare my own build to hers. I wondered if I looked intimidating to any of my competitors. When I noticed the starter lift his gun, I thought, "Oh my goodness, I'm not ready! Focus! I surely can't do this! I wish I were a sprinter!" Everyone nearby fell silent."Bang!" The gun sounded. As an immediate reaction, I jumped from the line as fast as I could, pushing and shoving the other runners in my attempt to find both a relaxing spot and racing pace.


I kept thinking to myself, "You're doing good; stay up behind this girl in the blue." I breathed the cold air deeply in and out of my lungs, and my feet hit the ground one after another. We passed the 100-meter mark, and I settled on a more relaxing yet still challenging pace. As we ran by the fence, I noticed my friend, Amanda, from Hall screaming, "Come on, Jamie! I believe in you!" I could not keep myself from smiling. I thought about how great it was tohavea friend from another team cheering for me.


I quickly changed my focus back to my race. I was getting closer to the girl in the blue. I decided to surge and pass her before the curve. I pumped my arms harder, and my feet landed faster. I swerved over to the right. For about three strides, I ran right next to her. Feeling her pushing harder and knowing she didn't want me to go around, I stepped up the pace one more notch. I thought about how in the previous year I had never passed anyone, or for that matter beat anyone, in the 3200-meter race. I remembered how embarrassed I had once been of myself. Somehow, in these thoughts, I found more energy within me. Next, I was in front of her and swerving to the left to go around the curve.


As I came near the 300-meter mark, I could hear all of my teammates screamingand cheering me on by my nickname, Olga. I turned my head and saw my father out of the corner of my eye. I raced early that afternoon, and he must have taken off the afternoon just to watch me run. Seeing him shiver in the cold, bundled in his favorite sweatshirt, and standing by himself made me think of how great a man he was. He had always supported me, no matter what I did or didn't do. Right then, I decided that race was for my father, and I was going to break 16 minutes for him.


I came to the finish line, knowing it was the first of eight times I'd cross that line before my race was over. My coach yelled my time, along with some encouraging words. I knew kept that same pace for the next seven laps I would have my goal made. My mind was everywhere, and I was trying my hardest to block out everything besides my race. I started to count numbers in my head with my every step for the next three laps. The air was so cold that it hurt my lungs to breathe. I kept telling myself not to think about it.


When I came across the finish line for the fourth time, I felt fatigued. I began to doubt my faith in myself. I was only halfway through my race. My cold and cheering fans had started to lose interest in the long 2-mile race. The girl in the lead was far aheadof all of us runners. I heard pounding feet from behind me. They reminded me that I had two other girls behind me, and I knew I had to keep them in mind. My legs were throbbing, and I was unsure if I could even keep the two girls at a reasonable distance behind me. My teammates' cheers that reminded me to keep pushing myself interrupted my negative thoughts.


My hope of accomplishing my goal brought me another two and a half laps further into my race. I then realized I only had one lap and a half left. Knowing that, I was able to increase my stride and pace for a half lap. I hit the line, and I knew that I then had only one lap left. I heard 14:02 called out as I passed. I took all the energy I had left and began to run faster. I felt like I was sprinting; however, I definitely wasn't. In my head, I tried to calculate how fast I needed to run to break 16 minutes, but it was hard to do and focus on the race. Once again everyone began to scream, "Olga!" Their cheers boosted my adrenaline. I approached the last 200 meters. I wondered what mytime might be and how close I might be to making my goal. I came around the last turn,and the cold wind blew harshly onto my face. I had to push harder to run against the chilling wind. I thought about how proud I would be if I met my goal time and how exciting it would be to call my friends and tell them the news. I wanted to be proud of myself.


The last 50 meters seemed the longest. I kept looking ahead and reminding myself that was as far as I had to go. I pushed harder against the wind, and I finally made it. My friends came to hug me and tell me that I had done well. I wasn't paying attention; the only thing I cared about was my time. Did I break 16, or would I have to work at it next week? I waited for my coach to come congratulate me with my official time, as he normally did.


I felt a tap on my back. I turned around, and it was he. He looked at me. Ilooked at him impatiently in return. I tried to read the expression on his face to find myanswer. After the brief pause, he gave me a big hug and shouted, "15:59! You did it, Olga, in the cold and wind!"


I jumped up and down, and so did my teammates. I had set a goal, worked hard, and accomplished it. I had never felt so proud of myself. 1 ran down to my father to tell him the news. He smiled and asked me how I felt. I then realized that I had forgotten how cold it was outside. I gave him a hug and exclaimed, "That was for you, Dad! Thank you for being my fan."

He smiled and replied, "So next time we can work for 15:30, right?"