10. Who Knew?

10. Who Knew?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Who Knew?

I decided to go for a little run.
 ~Forrest Gump

I’ve always been more academic than athletic. Throughout middle school and high school, I was heavily involved in student council and the Honor Society. And no sports whatsoever.

But at least one physical education course was required for high school graduation. And being able to run a mile — without dying — was required to pass said P.E. course. I know I sound like a complete wimp, but I rarely, if ever, ran by choice, let alone raced around the quarter-mile track four times.

To be honest, I didn’t think I could do it. But if I wanted to graduate, I had to try.

The P.E. teacher explained that we would have two weeks to train before our big run. The first day I barely made it around the track once before I was breathing into a paper sack. Pathetic. But after a week of training, I was able to jog two laps before I needed my lunch bag respirator. And on the last day of our training period, I was able to complete the required four laps. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but I did it. I was the slowest one in the whole class, but lucky for me, the only time limit was the fifty-minute class period.

I just had to do it again the next day to earn my P.E. credit. No problem, I thought. If I can do it once, I can do it a second time. What I didn’t count on was the audience.

The co-ed audience.

Oh, the humiliation, I thought as I squatted down at the starting line. Patrick, the boy I’d liked for the past three years, was sitting in the bleachers. The boys’ gym classes were going to use the track after our big race.

Just completing the mile was no longer enough. Now, with Patrick watching, I had to look good doing it.

The first lap wasn’t too bad. I kept up with the pack — sort of. During the second lap, I fell behind — way behind. But on the third lap, I was back with the pack — yes, they’d lapped me. My fourth lap was utterly humiliating. I was the only one on the track, huffing and puffing and praying that I would cross the finish line before I hyperventilated. In the home stretch, I looked up into the bleachers and noticed that the boys were no longer sitting there. Patrick was not witnessing my fourth lap horror. Oh, joy!

The next day in chemistry class, Patrick grinned at me and said, “You looked good running yesterday. Why don’t you go out for the cross country team?”

I looked at him like he was from Mars. “Running isn’t my thing,” I said.

“Really? When I saw you yesterday in gym class, you were running next to Jenny and Tina, and they’re the team’s fastest girls.”

Now I knew he was from Mars.

“So, in what place did you end up?” he continued. “I had homework to do and I only saw a few minutes of the race.”

“You didn’t see the end?”

Patrick shook his head. “So what happened? You started off so strong.”

I gulped, unsure of what to say. As I debated how to answer, he said, “You know, I’d really like to see you try out for the team. It’s a total blast.” He put his hand on mine and added, “I’ll even give you a ride home after practice. Maybe we can stop for a burger on the way.”

I felt my face flush. Had Patrick just asked me out? My dreams were coming true. And all I had to do was join the cross country team.

So, for love, I did. But there was just one problem. Eventually, Patrick was going to watch me run for more than 10 seconds and when he did, he’d realize the truth about my athletic abilities. I sucked.

I wanted to impress Patrick and make him like me. And this seemed to be strongly linked to me not sucking at running long distances. So I started practicing. I ran before school, and after school, and on the weekends. Sometimes I ran until I felt like my lungs would explode. But they never did — and somehow, I began to enjoy that feeling. I actually started looking forward to my runs.

And just a few weeks later, the ride home in Patrick’s car was no longer the best thing about cross country practice. Patrick was nice, and I liked him. But the truth was that I’d come to love running.

Patrick and I fizzled out when the cross country season ended, but my infatuation with running has become a life-long affair.

Who knew?

~Diane Stark

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