Monday, August 13, 2012

Four Hundred Meters of Redemption (1/2)

I have nightmares.

One of them is a reoccurring haunt. Reoccurring and occurring for the past 12 years of my life.

How do I explain- Where to start...

I was bit by a deer tick. The bite panned out like Spider-Man, but in reverse. I had trained the entire year to make it to the state track & field meet in the 300 Intermediate Hurdles, had won my conference in the event and was en route to qualifying for the big show. However, after a game of splat ball  in Hinckley, a deer tick found its way to my right shoulder blade and burrowed a poisonous life-threatening/altering  bite mark.

I had contracted Lyme Disease and didn’t know it at the time. My legs slowed, muscles atrophied, and energy dissipated to nil all before my own very eyes. I raced my heart out, but came in a lowly 5th at the regional finals. Only the top 2 go.

Now, when I close my eyes and take on any kind of nap or slumber, a scene plays out within the recesses of my mind. A gun fires, the racers leave their blocks, the crowd screams- everything moves with such an elusive fluidity to it that it becomes a smear of colors streaming through space, painting the track, leaving behind shadows of their former silhouette. Old friends smile with great expectation that I will set a personal best, or even win the race. It is a beautiful thing, as the sun is always shining in this dream… and this is my nightmare, for one thing is always wrong with this picture- one horrifying part is absolutely wrong.

The moment I try to advance from my blocks, or even from a stand still, my thighs seem to float like balloons pushing through space. There is no force behind the movement, no muscle, no chutzpah, no nothing. I am a slow motion figure in a fast paced world of trained sprinters. I am worthless.

To my friends, to my family, to the sport, to myself- I am of no worth to watch or cheer. I fail. The race leaves me, and I stay behind… everytime.

As I write it, now, I find the nightmare more in the reliving than the happening. As Prometheus was banished to a rock for his transgressions toward Zeus, he faced an eagle daily that would fly down and eat his liver. However, this was not the bane of his punishment, the curse lie in Prometheus’ liver growing back everyday just to be eaten by the eagle. I find it parallel to dreaming of racing for my goal just to lose… every single time.

I have struggled with this dream turned nightmare for 12 years, now.

Perhaps watching a 34 yr. old (Felix Sanchez) win the 400m hurdles in this year’s 2012 Olympics has turned my daily 30 minute jog to sprinting hurdles on a track… or maybe it’s the ultimate resentment for the piece of my brain that can’t let the past be finished- the part of me that clutches the loss as hard as it did the goal.

Working with two children this summer as a youth mentor, I decided to take them to a track at the edge of the city to run time trials- develop some sort of penultimate summer goal of measured progression. I’d run my morning sprints on this track in the past to prep for high school meets, and hone hurdling techniques. It scared the shit out of me to be back there.

After dropping the kids off, I headed back to my house- picked up my track cleats and drove straight back to the secluded track, my sanctuary. Jog, stretch, plyometrics- I began my hurdle routine. This wasn’t for enjoyment, this was to slay a dragon- to kill the echo rung from my final high school track race. After three-step speeding over several hurdles, I noticed an old white man enter the field. His strut was slow, but tall. He eyed me like I had trespassed onto his property- watched my every move over the hurdles. When he wasn’t in my range of visibility, I could feel his attention on my back as I still ran the hurdle routine.

“What ya’ runnin’ for?” murmured the old man.

My heart went cold. A breath escaped me a beat. Although the disbelief in me pulled back the notion, I still trusted my instinct that I knew this man. I recognized his voice. The circumstances were simply improbable- beyond chance that we’d ever run into each other again.

But here we are. 15 years removed, at the edge of the city, on a track only few have driven by let alone set foot upon.

This man was a ghost, to me. He’d been present in a few of the nightmares watching the race. And now here he is asking what I’m running for while I’m wide awake.

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