I’m four days shy of my eighteenth birthday, sandwiched between two Olympic gold medalists, and preparing to race for a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics for the 400-meter event.
How did I even make it to the finals?
Hot bile floods my throat. As sweat drips from my brow, I hear a crazy woman shouting over the crowd.
“Breathe, baby! Breathe!”
Peeking over at the gate to the right of me, our eyes connect. I realize she’s my crazy woman. With her huge smile and eyes blazing with pride, my mom always brings me comfort. My gaze slides from her encouraging face and lands on that of my boy¬friend. Patrick’s crooked smile has been the same since we were kids.
Just the sight of them, here by my side, reassures me. I gulp in a deep, cleansing breath and bow my head. This silences the deafening noise, and it helps me to forget my shortcomings.
“On your marks!” a stern voice—the voice I’ve been listening for—bellows over the loudspeaker.
I step in front of my tightly spaced starting blocks, jumping one last time into the air to activate my muscles. Then I crawl backwards into the blocks, my left foot positioned in the back. As I slide my feet in, a smirk creeps across my lips. I picture Coach Schwarz in the stands, scolding me like he does before every race.
“Morgan, switch your damn feet, and space out your blocks more!”
My left knee digs into the rubbery Tartan Track. I focus on the connection of my damp skin against the hot track below. I say a silent prayer, thanking it for supporting my feet and body race after race.
Then, one last breath. I position my fingers behind the white line and await my next command.
“Set!” booms the Starter’s robotic voice over the loudspeaker.
My hips shoot straight up. Fire replaces my blood, surging through my veins.
The starting gun reverberates through me.
I push out of the blocks, careful not to go out too hard in the first 200 meters. Keeping my eyes glued straight ahead, I don’t allow my opponents to bait me. Instead, I wait for my time. I stick close to the pack until I see my sweet spot ahead.
“Kick. Kick. Kick.” The words play like a mantra in my head as I round the second curve of the track. My body is weightless. My brain needs no prompting as it propels my legs forward. My feet become lighter, and my spikes barely touch the track before shooting forward for my next stride.
My arms pump harder as I enter my part of the race. The part in which I shine, the part I relish. The finish line is just ahead. Movement on my right enters my peripheral vision. I feel Sammy closing in. She’s right on my tail.