65. The Lion’s Prey

65. The Lion’s Prey

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

The Lion’s Prey

The human body can only do so much. Then the heart and spirit must take over.
 ~Sohn Kee-chung, 1936 Olympic Marathon Champion

What were you thinking? You can’t do this. A marathon! Twenty-six miles is too far. Oh, don’t forget the .2. You’re too old. You’ll die of a heart attack.

There I was, a fifty-year-old grandmother hippo, standing in the middle of young, beautiful, sleek gazelles with taut muscles, ready to bolt at the slightest sound. Jittery gazelles, antelopes, and cheetahs stared at me with wonder in their eyes as if to say, “What are you doing here?” They pranced in place and nervously studied each other as I stood still, wishing I could escape. “BAM!” The cannon blast ripped through the air and bounced off my chest. Instinctively I bolted as if I, too, were a gazelle.

Gazelles, antelope, and cheetahs zipped right, exploded left, and shot past me as they jockeyed for the front, leaving me behind as prey for the lion. Realizing I was not one of those speedy creatures, I slowed to a plodding pace more suitable for a hippo. You made a mistake. You will never finish. Your mother was right; you will die of a heart attack. That lion, Fear, will surely devour you!

Sights and sounds blurred. I thought I heard the theme from Rocky. I thought I saw cheerleaders waving blue and white pompoms. Mouths seemed to be moving, but all the words melted into a pool of undetectable screams and cheers. It was as if I were in the middle of the jungle with monkeys screeching their warning as the lion approached.

Relax. You can do this. Just enjoy the journey. I took a deep breath for courage and a feeling of tranquility overcame my terror. Instead of trudging like a hippo through the thick sludge of a jungle riverside, I floated like a Snake Eagle across the Serengeti Plain. A smile crept across my face. My breathing united with every gliding step. I started to enjoy the beauty around me. I saw the St. John River as it snaked around newly-built mansions. I saw people waving and yelling. “Good luck number 239.” I saw a little girl, bundled in her downy blue parka, standing with her daddy. “Looking good!” A young girl, with long, blond hair blowing gently in the wind, was handing out water. A boy, who could have been a double for Huckleberry Finn, was banging on a pot.

Coach Joe stood on the curbside with his clipboard. Did he say I’m on pace for Boston? Couldn’t be. Still smiling, I continued to fly across the pavement. I passed one of the beautiful, sleek gazelles. She didn’t look very happy. I soared past police officers as they directed traffic around me. I was still floating as I turned right and headed down the last stretch of pavement towards the finish, when WHAM! A vice gripped my legs, squeezing the very life from every muscle like a boa. But there are only three more miles to go. Oh God, please don’t let me fall. I tried to pick up my feet, but they would only slide as if weighted down by lead. Every move hit my legs with a hammer — a sledgehammer. My brain said, “Go!” My legs said, “No!”

I turned another corner and saw the high school field. I saw the entrance to the track — and the finish line. I kept churning. I heard my name. I started to feel lighter.

The crowd was cheering. I started to glide again. Coach Joe yelled, “You did it! You did it! You’re going to Boston!” I sailed around the final curve of the track and through the finish line. All the doubts and fears that were bottled up within me were released, and rose from my toes, propelled through my veins, gathered in my throat, and then gushed from my eyes.

I did do it! Twenty-six point two miles was not too far. I was not too old. I did not die of a heart attack. I beat the lion. I was going to Boston!

~Ginger Herring

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