Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A State Championship vs. Runner's Conscience

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A State Championship vs. Runner's Conscience

Article excerpt

A light drizzle and fog fill the vast margin between gray clouds and muddy ground. The temperature is 42 degrees. The weather envelops and entices me and my six cross-country teammates as we exit the school van.

Our previous performance under similar atmospheric conditions was impressive. It got us here - the final meet of the season, the high school state championship. Physically and mentally, we are overprepared. We're cocky.

Jogging toward the starting line, I feel the eyes of our competition burn into my back. I reciprocate glares while laughing at a joke a teammate shares. I savor knowing that these 180-odd runners know we are the team to beat. I feel powerful. As we stretch ligaments, I catch a glimpse of our coach smiling - a configuration his mouth and cheeks are not used to. He knows the probability of our placing first is better than excellent. "This is the best opportunity your school has ever had to win a state title," he says in a gruff voice. "Don't let the school down. Don't let me down. Don't let your teammates down. And, most importiantly, don't let yourselves down." Coach is still speaking. But I've stopped listening. I dream of the big, shiny trophy. We take our places: The gun fires. As I accelerate, I inhale deep breaths. Most of the racers are behind me. I'm hitting stride. A strong finish is mine. Rounding a corner of a remote leg of the winding course, my eyes zero in on a runner in red shorts. He's sitting down, crying in pain, clutching his foot. I sidestep him, and glance at my watch. I'm making good time. I take comfort in knowing there's one fewer runner ahead of me. But suddenly I freeze. Cold. I'm breathing heavily. My mind tells my legs to keep moving. But I don't. I can't. I swivel around, spotting the downed runner. He's now lying on his back - in the mud. I'm about 20 feet from him. …

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