When I boarded the plane to go to the Stanford Invitational, I figured I would have fun, race, and come home. I never figured on learning something about myself in the process, but the trip turned into much more than a race for me. It turned into a valuable experience.
Earlier that year, the coaches of my high school cross country team had announced that they would be taking the top seven runners from our team down to Stanford, California to race in an elite competition. As our school’s fifth runner, I was almost guaranteed a spot, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
The day finally came, and we flew out early that morning. We visited the campus, decorated our van, and spent time as a team, getting to know each other better. It was unbelievably fun, but the knowledge that we had a race the next day hung over our heads like rain clouds. If I didn’t race well the next day, all the money my parents forked out for this trip would be wasted, my team would be disappointed, and so would I. The morning of the race, you couldn’t have found anyone more nervous than I was. I felt so much pressure to do well that I felt I might collapse under the weight of it. To top it all off, the day dawned bright and sunny, TOO sunny for my taste. It was 100°, and being from Oregon, hot weather doesn’t help my chances much.
We warmed up, completed our last drills and stretches, and took our places on the start line. The gun went off, and we took off. I settled into a good pace, not too fast, not too slow, right where I normally was. The course wound around a golf course, so the entire thing was clearly visible throughout the race. There was what seemed like millions of people yelling, cheering for their team. It seemed like every runner had someone cheering for them, but it quickly dawned on me that I was the exception. There was no one there supporting me. I suddenly felt very alone, and I fought to hold my pace. Then, amidst the pounding of hundreds of feet and roar of the crowd, I heard it. One single voice, cheering for me. I realized then that I was never truly alone. It didn’t matter if there was anyone there cheering me on, there would always be a voice there for me. It might come from my aunt, who had traveled for an hour to see me race, from a higher power guiding me, or from inside my own head, but it would always be there. I went on to run what, in my opinion, is my best race of my life. I finished as the second runner for my team, within two seconds of the first.
That day, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned that I am never alone, and above that, I learned that when there is no outside source of motivation, I can look inside myself and find it in my own heart. To this day, I regard that race as my best ever.
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