I was recently out with the girls when Bridie noted that it seemed “I had gotten my athlete back.”
For those of you that don’t know, I used to be an athlete: a Division 1, full college scholarship athlete. But I lost it. Well, not so much lost as suppressed. Not because I wasn’t proud, but because, during my four years of college among the many things I learned about myself, I discovered I am a terrible loser. My competitive side, is not my pretty side.
But something happened to me recently that brought my athlete out of retirement.
For the past several years I have run a half marathon in my hometown. It started as something my brother and I did, but I liked the race so much, that I continued to run it, even after he flew south.
The race is almost always the weekend before the Broad Street Run, and since I had set a goal for myself for the BSR (as the cool kids call it – or so they tell me) I wanted to just run a nice and easy (read slow) 13.1 miles. And that is exactly what I was prepared to do, until I saw him.
Now, since this blog already has an ambiguous male nicknamed him, and because this him went to my high school and half the population of my high school was named Mike, we will call him Mike.
Mike and I never got along. Maybe because he was the popular athlete and I was the mouthy newspaper editor or maybe because I purposely steered Mike in the wrong direction whenever he asked for help on an assignment or maybe because this was real life and not a romantic teen comedy where we would have been named prom king and queen -- regardless of the why, there was no love lost between Mike and I.
And there he was. At the starting line of my race.
The athlete immediately started whispering in my ear: cooing words like redemption and vindication. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and turned away from Mike. I walked towards the back of the pack, silencing the athlete. I was going to run my slow and steady race. I would not let her get in my head.
But then, a couple of miles into the race, there he was again. And as soon as I spotted him, the athlete was back in my ear.
But I couldn’t just pass him. Passing him meant keeping up this pace, possibly getting faster, looking over my shoulder the whole time, worrying he was gaining on me, not letting him pass me, not letting myself just give up and finish.
Besides. He probably won’t even recognize me when I pass him. And if he recognizes me, he won’t care.
But you will care, she countered. You will know you passed him. You will know you beat him. All the hurt and anger and self-hatred and self-doubt that this guy inspired in you and others all those years ago, you can leave all of that behind along with him.
Then she started naming names. Names of friends I had long forgotten. Friends whose hearts were broken by this guy. I saw his smug high school smile. I remembered the time I heard him call me a bitch.
My eyes narrowed and my stride lengthened. The athlete was back.
There were times throughout those next 11 miles when I thought I couldn’t do it. When I worried that he was right behind me, or that I was going to run out of steam. But she kept me going; kept pushing me until the very end.
And then at the end, she turned and waited to watch him finish (several minutes later). She looked right at him and smiled, turned on her heel and strutted away.
Sometimes she’s not a good winner either, but I think I’m gonna keep her around all the same.