By Emily Williams, Assistant Features Editor
In high school, I played soccer. Now I wasn’t the all-star of the team by any means and when it came to defense, I definitely wasn’t your go-to girl, seeing as I was the smallest one out there and couldn’t hurt a fly if I tried. But I could sprint and I could shoot. Those were my strengths on the field.
So my junior year of high school, I decided I wanted to try something new and give cross country running a try. How hard could it be, right? It was just running and I was used to running. After all, the average amount of miles you run in a soccer game totaled about seven, depending on the position you played.
So I laced up my ASICS and I took my place at the starting line next to several very experienced cross country runners at my very first meet that fall. It was then that I began to recognize just how out of place I was. I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I was amidst a sea of legs the length of small skyscrapers belonging to runners who could not possibly have consumed any carbs for at least four years. I was suddenly very aware of my stumpy legs, my lack of experience and my heart nearly beating outside of my chest when the gun fired and we were to begin the race.
Swallowing the lump in my throat and throwing my parents a very concerned glance, I began to move my two stumps as fast as they would allow, knowing that what I lacked in length I must make up for in speed.
I started off great. Everything was hunky-dory. I even wondered for a few minutes why it was that I had worried so much at the starting point and began to feel silly. I specifically remember grinning and thinking I had accomplished something huge when I zoomed past a girl who loomed what seemed like several feet above my head. It wasn’t until a bit before the halfway mark of the race that I knew my need for speed, at first my weapon, would be my downfall. I began to wheeze pretty heavily (attractive mental image, I know) and my legs felt like nothing but two spaghetti noodles, fresh out of boiling water.
My heart felt like it could and would at any moment, give out and release me from the misery that was this 5K. Aside from the physical torment I was undergoing, it didn’t help that several people began to pass me as my pace slowed to all but a complete stop mid-race. Long legs stretched past me but all I could do was stare at the ground to keep from getting sick all over my sorry self.
But I remember something specifically nearing the end of the race, when I knew I had to be one of the last ones if not the last one to finish the race. I remember rounding a corner and seeing my parents. They had waited for me because they knew I would come. Even when all the other parents (and runners, might I add) had already moved past this point in the race. They waited for me on that hill and they smiled as I rounded that corner.
I remember seeing my dad clap for me and encourage me with this simple statement. “Finish strong, Em.” I remember my pace quickening, my energy being restored if only for a moment and my heart soaring toward the finish line. So I did what he said. I finished. I finished last, but I finished. I remember feeling both the embarrassment of being in last place and the relief of being done as I fell across the finish line in exhaustion.
But most of all, I remember the hugs that awaited me when I reached my parents, sweaty and shaking. They were proud of me. And that’s all that mattered. So what if I wasn’t the best long-distance runner? So what if I had finished dead last in the race? I was loved and I was accepted and I had done what I had come there to do.
Now I am 22 years old and closing in on my last year as a college student and the same words from my father still ring in my head. They motivate me and spur me on when the tasks seem impossible to accomplish, when the anxiety seems bigger than who I know am, when I find it hard to believe that I am capable of doing things well and when I just want to lie down in defeat. “Finish strong, Em.” And finish strong I will.