by Andy Hunter, 12th
10 A.M., Saturday, October 15th, 2016
Bzzzzz. BzZZZ. bZZZZZ. I groggily reach for my alarm as the ceaseless monotony of beeps brings me to my senses. I begin to roll out of bed, and then remember I have to be careful. The last time I rolled out of bed super fast, I fell on the floor onto a Lego. Ouch. I sigh. Today’s the first day of track practice, and I should be excited, but instead I’m just really tired. I slowly rise and shake my head to clear it before stumbling to the bathroom. “Hopefully, I’m not this clumsy at practice,” I mumble to myself.
As I wash my face and finish brushing my teeth, my mom calls up the stairs, “Josh! You’re gonna to be late for practice!” Stumbling with my duffel bag slung over my shoulder, I hastily grab my keys off my desk and manage a “Coming!” before flying down the stairs. I yank open the door and take a deep breath of fresh air before running to my car.
I look at the dashboard as I pull up to a red light. 10:35 AM. I glance away, then do a double take. 10:35?! I’m already 20 minutes late! My hands are jittery. I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I’m even more jumpy than usual. Nervous thoughts begin running through my mind. Coach is gonna kill me! I’m supposed to be the team captain, the role model. What if he demotes me for setting a bad example? The state championship race is tomorrow! Will he still let me compete?!
As the light turns green, I push the gas hard. Way too hard. I ram into the car in front of me, and my body lurches out of the seat. The last thing I see before I pass out is the blinding brightness of the sun as I’m laid out on my back among a wreckage of glass.
* * *
1:30 P.M., Saturday, October 15th, 2016
My first thoughts when I awaken are that my whole body hurts, but my right leg is particularly painful. There are shockwaves of pain from my right knee down to my foot when I move even a little bit. I feel an odd sort of apprehension, like something terrible happened, but my brain is fuzzy and I can’t really put my finger on it. I groan and lay back on my pillow, then do a double-take as I look around the room and see the IV tubes and other foreign beeping machines around my bed. Slowly, I come to my senses and realize I’m in the hospital. But for what? I can’t remember. I lay back gently into my pillow, and drift off to sleep again.
The next time I awaken, I open my eyes to the sight of a middle-aged man who appears to be my doctor. He says quietly, “Josh? Are you awake?”
“Uh, yeah,” I respond slowly, still half-asleep.
“Okay. Do you know why you’re here, Josh? Do you remember anything that happened?”
“I’m not really sure, sir. My memory’s still fuzzy, but I remember being in a car and worrying about being late to soccer practice.”
“Ah, I see. The story is starting to come together a bit. Well, I’m sorry to tell you this, Josh, but at the intersection of 12th and 3rd Street, you rear-ended a car and flew out the windshield. The passengers in the other car were all okay. You were found unconscious, and transported here. You’re currently at Bellevue Hospital in New York.”
Whoa. I must’ve hit the other car really hard. Suddenly, everything comes rushing back. Being late to practice. Pulling up really close to the car in front of me. Seeing the green light too late, and panicking. I don’t think I had my seatbelt on either. No wonder I flew out the window. I sigh quietly as the memories slowly recede, then speak up again.
“Doctor, what’s happened to my leg? I can barely move my leg without it feeling like there’s a thousand needles shooting up my thigh. Is there any serious injury to my leg?” My thoughts turned to my track career. “Will it impact my running at all? Can I even run? I’m on the track team, you see.”
The doctor puts up his hands, palms facing me like stop signs. “Whoa, buddy. Calm down. You have a fractured kneecap from the crash, and we’re going to have to cast it. You won’t be running anytime soon. Probably not for 6-8 weeks. Sorry, buddy.”
A slight sense of panic begins to rise in my stomach. What am I going to do? How am I gonna tell Coach what happened? Will I be kicked off the team? I have no idea what’s in store for me now.
* * *
4 PM, Monday, October 17th, 2016
I’ve been in the hospital for two days now. The state finals finished up yesterday, and the champion was someone I beat consistently for the last three years. What a perfect way to cap off a horrible weekend. They casted my leg about an hour ago, so I’m trying to learn how to walk with crutches. It takes me a bit, but finally I get the hang of it, and I sit back down on the bed, waiting for my mom to arrive so I can be dismissed from the hospital. I hear a ding from my phone, and reach across the bed to check the message. It’s from my mom.
Hey Josh, I have some bad news. I talked to your coach about your injury and what’s going to happen to you moving forward, and he told me that he can’t justify putting you on the elite team anymore. He said he thought your injury would really hold you back from reaching your full potential now, and that the best choice forward was to drop you from the team and put you in the lower level team. He said he hopes that you find the new team satisfactory, and wished you luck in your recovery. I’m really sorry, Josh, but there’s not much we can do. We’re in no position to argue with him, as he told me already that he thought about dropping you from the organization altogether, after your teammates expressed that they didn’t think you should continue to be captain. We’re out of luck, hon. Text or call me when you’re up or if you need anything.
I stare at the screen, dumbfounded. Did this really happen? There’s no way. Just as everything seemed to be trending up in my life. My grades were surviving, I had just asked a girl to Homecoming, and I’d just made the elite team of one of the best track clubs outside of school. And suddenly, I’m in a cast for six weeks, I’ve wrecked my car, and my own team has betrayed and shunned me. Who would’ve thought, in the fraction of time it takes to press your foot against the gas pedal, the state of one’s entire life could be changed forever?
* * *
5 P.M., Saturday, October 22nd, 2016
I’m finally done with my homework. Time to research more teams that I could possibly join. As soon as I got out of the hospital, I called Coach, telling him that I would be dropping out of the organization. I’m not planning to tolerate a hostile environment where I’m not wanted, much less recover in one. Munching on my favorite snack of cashews and honey roasted peanuts, I browse casually through the results of a Google Search, scanning for any opportunities that seem worth checking out. As I scroll down the search results, my eyes catch onto one particular link and I raise my eyebrows as the page loads. Team Eagle. That name sounds oddly familiar. As it dawns on me, my eyebrows raise even higher. They are division rivals of my old team, and there is quite a heated competition in town between the two squads. Their coach has tried to convince members of our team to join theirs several times over, and their members have taunted ours endlessly. With the rising tensions and animosity, there was nearly a brawl at the final meet of the season last year. To join them will anger my old team to no end, and will cause even more chaos between the two teams. But I have no choice. They abandoned me, and I need a team. I can’t worry about them; I need to focus on myself. I navigate to and slowly click the “Contact Us” link.
* * *
6PM, Sunday, December 15th, 2016
I anxiously pace up and down the length of my room, glancing every few minutes at the fluorescent glow of my laptop. I’m wound up so tight right now with nervousness I could pass for a jack-in-a-box. I’m awaiting an email from the head coach of Team Eagle, who said he’d respond by 6PM in his latest email. I’ve been contacting him for a while now, nearly two months. Although they are division rivals of my former team, and I don’t want to cause any trouble, Team Eagle has done something no other team has done for me recently. Team Eagle showed interest. In fact, they were the first team to even respond to any of my emails or phone calls. By talking with the head coach, and presenting my track resume with my old team, I’d managed to convince them to give me a tryout. Now, I’m awaiting the results of the tryout, to learn if I was on the team or not.
My brain tells me I didn’t make it, but my gut feels as though I squeezed onto the team. I can’t tell for sure. I’d finished slower than two other guys trying out, but I also think I’ve made enough of a good impression on the coach that he’ll attribute my slow time to my injury. Hopefully he won’t forget my past times.
A loud Ding! causes me to jump a little, before rushing over to my computer to check my inbox. Sure enough, there it is. “Tryout results,” the subject line reads. Apprehensively, I click the email.
Hello! If you’re reading this email right now, congratulations! You have been accepted to one of the biggest track organizations in all of New York. You’ve accomplished quite a prestigious achievement! Check down below to see which team you’re on.
My heart skips a beat, and I feel a slow sense of joy rising, but I’m careful to check myself and not let my hopes get up too high. I could still be on the lower team. I scroll down a little further. JUNIOR TEAM reads a large heading. I pass by without stopping to read the names. Finally, I reach SENIOR TEAM. With bated breath, I begin to scan the names. Halfway through the list, my name still hasn’t shown up. Disappointment builds up slowly. Three quarters down. Still no name to be seen. Maybe I am on the junior team. Maybe I didn’t really make the senior team. My apprehension only grows as I continue down the list, fearing with each scroll that the list will come to an end. At last, I see my name, etched in black text. My heart swells as it dawns on me that I’m back on an elite team, with a chance to compete. Finally!
* * *
8 PM, Friday, October 14th, 2017
It’s been a long grueling season for me so far, with my injury and all. I started the season off pretty shabbily, finishing in seventh place out of eight places for my first two races as I was extremely rusty after having not raced for a while. Over time, however, I’ve improved back to my former strength, after persevering through a couple more races. The races got increasingly more competitive and grueling as the season went on, as I felt the pressure to succeed mounting.
Tonight, we’re having our annual pasta dinner, the last team bonding event of the year before the final race of the season. Not only is it a bonding opportunity for the team, it's also a chance for everyone to charge up before the last race. As my teammates and I circle around the table preparing to descend upon the delicious mounds of noodles and sauce, I realize I’ve never had a better group of friends in my life. These guys have supported me throughout a rough comeback season, and I grin broadly as I remember the many moments we’ve had together, from placing first in our third relay of the season, to having tons of members qualify for State. I smile even wider as another thought comes to my mind. Not only are these people a great group of friends, they’re my friends. I know they would never turn their backs on me. I wouldn’t want to run with anyone else.
* * *
10 A.M., Saturday, October 15th, 2017
It’s officially been one year since I was involved in the car crash, and oddly enough, I find myself in the same situation as I was a year ago. Twenty minutes late to the track. Except this time, I’m running in the championship 400m race for the State Competition, not watching it on a minuscule grainy television from a hospital bed. I smile as I fondly remember my miraculous recovery and journey back to success. The boys and the coach of Team Eagle took me under their wing, encouraging me when I was down and recovering, and preparing me for the moment when we’d all make it big, together. I’d quickly established myself as one of the strongest runners on the team. After four weeks, I was closer with these boys than I’d ever been with anyone on my former team. I felt like I was following a track that was predetermined for me; I was preparing for a race against the team that left me behind to prove them wrong, a classic comeback story. I became more motivated than I’d ever been in my life to show my old team I didn’t need them to be the best. What an amazing journey it’s been, I reminisce to myself.
As I snap back into reality, I find myself at the intersection of 12th and 3rd street again. I sigh to myself and think, Who would’ve thought that in just one year, my life could go from rock bottom to nearly the top? I take a deep breath as my thoughts turn to the race. I’ve got to win today. I feel a slight twinge in my heart as I remember just who’s going to be at the race. My old teammates who believed that I would let an injury hold me back. Rather than support me and help me get up, they left me behind to fall even further. I grit my teeth in determination. I need this race. I need to prove to myself, and to everyone else who believed I’d never be able to compete again, that I am strong enough and powerful enough to rise once again. It’s not enough to just compete again; I absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, have to win. My mind sharpens, my eyes narrow, and my full focus locks onto the race. I’m not going to try to win. I will win.
Oakland | East Bay, CA