By Andrew Leishman
October, though it comes after the stiflingly hot summer months of July and August, on occasion, can be blisteringly oppressive. As I approach the final ascent of this fast, gut-wrenching, seven-kilometer grind, I am reminded of the increasingly frequent bouts of nausea that have been plaguing my aching body for last three kilometers. As I begin the climb, my heart rate spikes, beating at a frighteningly quick pace, an out of control train nearing explosion. I am redlining now. The sun, which has been a constant irritation, draining every last ounce of energy from my limbs, now faces me head on, blinding me. Arms pumping and calves straining, I am embraced by the deafening roars of the excited fans, a familiar yet intimidating cacophony of noise. The clothes that make up the boisterous wall of fans beside me blend into a mismatched muddle of colours impossible to decipher. I am truly in pain now, hardly able to see the tie-dyed shorts of the racer in front of me. Looking up out of my dazed stupor, the glaze over my eyes disappears as I crest the hill. The mad dash to the finish has just begun.
On occasion I find myself reflecting on the past, on how I became the man that I am today and every time that I do, I always end up in the same place: at the beginning. Why do I run? What drives me? What compels me to put myself through twenty-four and a half minutes of extraordinary gut-wrenching pain? These questions are the very questions that taunt and torment me every time I run, comparable to a broken record player, playing on an endless loop, fixed in place until their endless noise fades into a dull annoyance, ending as white noise. Now when I run, it is almost second nature, as if it has been programmed into my very existence. It is what I do; it is what I am known for. I have almost come to enjoy it. However, this was not always the case. I did not always enjoy running, or stepping out of my comfort zone.
As I feel myself being dragged out of bed, still paralyzed from the night’s sleep, I hear the annoying yet comforting sound of my mother’s voice. It is time to get up. However, for a grade three boy who is not a fan of the morning, seven thirty in the morning can be a rude awakening. As a grade three boy, I was not and still am not one for trying new things, and this certainly was not one of them. School had begun just three weeks earlier and it was now time for tryouts. Grade three was the youngest age you could be in order to try out for a sport. However, I was not really one for sports or anything that had previously been unfamiliar. I was content to just hang out with my friends and play in the school yard. I had no interest in stepping outside my comfort zone; I was completely oblivious to the world and opportunities unfolding around me. It was not until the new music teacher, Mr. Chung, came along that it all changed. He was one of those go-getter teachers, the kind who are interested in being involved with everything and everyone. He was one of those teachers who leave their mark engraved in the very essence of the school, leaving a legacy hard to match. Unknown to me, he would later go on to start the cross country team, soccer team, badminton team, volleyball team and an assortment of various other clubs, for the less athletically inclined. I would go on to participate on every one of those teams and clubs. He was the catalyst that would thrust me into unknown territory, sparking my athletic and academic career.
Oblivious to the events entangled in the uncertain, but near, future, I stood dazed, staring at my mother and begging for another ten minutes. It was the first day of tryouts. My mother, being a go-getter herself, had unsurprisingly compiled a list of every sport and club that would be offered that term. And so, on this cold dewy morning, I would be trying out, or should I say walking onto the cross country team. However, I would not go down without a fight. The entire way to school I was dragged kicking and screaming, balling my eyes out, doing everything in my power to thwart my mother’s steady progress. I did not want to run, I yelled at her. I hated trying new things. What if I was not good enough? What if the other kids laughed at me? However, despite my best efforts, I found myself entangled in the small crowd of bodies that had gathered outside of our three story red bricked school. The group was a mismatched muddle of boys and girls from grades three to six. There were short kids, tall kids, chubby kids and even a few whom I thought must have lived at McDonalds. Myself, weighing just fifty-five pounds, which was underweight for my age, I did not feel at all confident.
Our training ground was a typical school field, littered with small patches of dirt where the grass had not quite taken root. The south end was a baseball diamond with the typical one hundred and eighty-degree fencing, the only line of defense for the unlucky neighboring houses. Mr. Chung rolled out a large bucket of popsicle sticks, which to my displeasure were not accompanied by the rest of the popsicle. The plan for the practice and many of the future practices was to run laps of the field. Each time you finished a lap, you were given a popsicle stick which was then glued beside your name outside of the office. Later reflecting on this seemingly ridiculous training method, I realized that it was rather ingenious. By creating a game whose prize was public recognition or conversely humiliation, it forced kids to run hard in practices. Soon more people had joined the team just to play the game. As I began running I soon realized that although I was only in grade three, I was actually one of the better runners. The line of popsicle sticks beside my name began to increase rapidly. I realized that despite my reluctance at first, I was actually enjoying myself.
So now as I sit here reflecting, analyzing the last eight years that have led me to where I am today, I am reminded of that feeling of reluctance. My immediate reaction of “no.” Everyone who was once great or is still great started somewhere, and if those people had simply said no, then the world would be deprived of everything great. As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Always take the shot, even if your kneejerk reaction is no, because you may surprise yourself. Had it not been for running, I would likely still be that boy content to settle for good, not great.