5. Tale of a Former Slowpoke

5. Tale of a Former Slowpoke

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Tale of a Former Slowpoke

Little by little one walks far.
 ~Peruvian Proverb

“In three weeks,” shouted my middle school gym teacher, “the sixth grade will begin our annual physical fitness testing. Be prepared to complete at least fifteen push-ups and a minimum of twenty sit-ups correctly, and, of course, the mile run, which must be finished within 10 minutes and 50 seconds. We will practice these three activities during gym class up until the test.”

The entire P.E. class groaned in unison, and my moan was the loudest of all. I recalled the fifth grade fitness test I had taken the previous year. I had easily pulled through push-ups and crunches, but I was worst in my class when it came to running. I’m not sure what I despised most — watching the athletic kids lounge in the grass, mile completed, while I was still on my second lap, stopping to catch my breath 2 minutes into the test and hiding my face from passing runners, or feeling my legs ache and clutching the cramps in my side as I crossed the finish line, 13 minutes and 40 seconds after the test began.

In short, I was a slowpoke.

I was mortified to run the mile. For me, it meant humiliation for being the slowest in the class, as well as physical pain and too much sweat. Not to mention the fact that I would have no one to run with — all my good friends were much faster than me. I found myself worrying for the rest of the day, nervous about gym class the next morning, where we’d have to practice the timed mile.

Despite my pleas to stay home from school, I stood shivering at the school track during first period. And, as my teacher explained the run once more, I made a last-minute, desperate decision to stick with my fastest friend, the most athletic girl in the grade, for as long as I could during the run.

I didn’t think much of my brash choice at first — I figured that I’d be forced to resume my normal, tortoise-like pace halfway through lap one. But as we lined up behind the starting line, a crooked crack in the pavement, I became resolute. The sharp whistle blew, and we took off. My friend, whose name was Lily, sped ahead of the entire class in three long strides. Sucking in monstrous amounts of air, I sprinted right behind her. Every time I felt the urge to stop and collapse on the dewy grass, I pushed my body a bit farther. When I finally gave in to my self-pleas and slowed to a walk, I realized that I had lasted half of a mile running directly behind Lily.

Although I walked the remaining half mile, I finished before some of my faster friends. Shocked though I was at my unexpected skill, I couldn’t help but believe that it was a fluke. A one-time event. That I’d never run quickly again. So, I took action. Every night for the rest of the week, I ran up and down my street, building myself up in preparation for next week’s gym class. Once I could successfully jog the entire road without pausing, I felt I was ready to dash through the mile.

My progress was slow but sure over the course of the next few months. First, I dropped behind Lily after three quarters of a mile. Next, sooner to the end. Then, I finished only 10 seconds after her. By the end of the semester, I was running alongside Lily for an entire mile. My gym teachers and friends were shocked at my sudden change of pace.

When we changed P.E. groups, I became the fastest girl in my class. I was, surprisingly enough, enjoying Wednesday morning gym class — while my peers trudged sleepily outside to the track, my walk was brisk and energetic. My parents were astonished when I began jogging after school and on weekends, especially considering I’d never attempted, much less enjoyed, a sport in my life. My physical fitness test mile time earned me a spot on the coveted list duct-taped to the door of the girls’ locker room, the piece of paper that told the entire school who passed the evaluation with flying colors.

As I entered seventh grade, my family was nonetheless surprised at my decision to join the middle school cross country team. To my great disappointment, our “team practices” entailed running a single lap around our miniscule track followed by several games of capture the flag. I was unfazed, however. I simply took matters into my own hands. I started training on my own time — at parks, at home, at the gym — wherever I could, until I was running daily. In addition to cross country meets, I competed in local races, increasing speed, distance, and endurance as I went. At my mother’s request, I began eating about three times as much food as I did previously, considering the number of calories I burned exercising each week. I was healthy, strong, and feeling great about myself.

Towards the end of seventh grade, I took on a new venture — training for an intensive cross country camp located in rural Vermont. The camp would also include mountain biking and distance swimming as cross-training for runners. I knew that such an endeavor would be treacherous for me, a former slowpoke with very little running experience, but I made up my mind to take on the challenge.

So the training began. A spring and summer of running and exhaustion, nervousness for camp and pride for my newfound strength. And, thanks to my persistent mother, a spring and summer of intense eating and the occasional rest. The day before camp arrived at last, and amidst frantic packing, I found a sense of calm. The lingering fear of unreadiness and weakness had disappeared. I had worked hard and made an incredible transformation from slow-poke to real cross country runner. My only emotion was determination to give the week my all and do my absolute best at camp, no matter how hard it was.

The week was difficult, but rewarding — I’m proud to say that although I was far from the best runner at camp, I tried my best and definitely gained speed and endurance. I plan on continuing cross country running in eighth grade, high school and even after I graduate.

Yes, running has gotten me into shape. Far more importantly though, I’ve learned a ton about myself since I began the sport. I can truly do anything if I set my mind on it, even if it seems more than impossible.

Take it from a former slowpoke.

~Claire Howlett, age 13

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