My First Mile

When I was in 8th grade, I was a geek, a nerd, a brain. For the past two or three years I had also been ugly. Crazy, kinky mousy brown hair, and the same glasses since 4th grade. Glasses that made me look like I had no eyebrows. People teased me because of my looks, my clothes, my friends. I was pretty miserable for those years. In 8th grade, things changed a bit. My hair started to cooperate, I got nicer glasses (though they were still glasses!), and people suddenly didn't have so much to tease me about. But I was still a nerd.

I came home crying one day about it, and told my mom I was joining the track team, so I wouldn't be "just" a brain anymore. I started practicing and training, having been somewhat athletic, but never having competed in a formal sport. My coach decided I should be a distance runner.

The first time I ever ran a mile, I came in dead last and nearly tossed my lunch over my teammates. I was glad it was over, and I decided that my next mile race, I would come in next to last. And I did. And then I came in next to next to last. And so on. Until I was a pretty good miler, beating many people on my team and others. But I never came in first. Jen always did, even though she was a year younger than me.

When I got into high school, the cross country coach pursuaded me to come out for the team. I had already made a mark in Spring track, and I had qualified for Districts my freshman year. In, guess what, the mile. And although I came in next to last at Districts, I felt really good about what I had done. (Also at that time, I had a crush on a senior, also at Districts that year. He made me really happy when he told me how he saw me turn and help the girl who'd finished last, who collapsed on the track after crossing the line just behind me.)

I didn't run Cross-Country my first year, but in my sophomore year I joined. And there was Jen, now a 9th grader, and me in 10th.

I was terrible in Cross-Country. I felt like I was in 8th grade again, running my first mile. Hills, grass, ditches, water (!). I wasn't used to these things, a flat track was all I had known. But just like my first mile, I kept plugging away, until I was the "second girl." Second to Jen.

Finally, at the very end of a race in the middle of the season, I was on Jen's heels. Right behind her. Out of breath, finish line in site, I asked her, I probably begged her, "Let me finish first." Through gritted teeth she gave me her angry answer, "No way!"

That hit me. I thought we were all on the same team. I realized then that we weren't, that some of us were only out there for ourselves. I got angry. With the last 30 yards before us, I kicked with all my energy, and swept past Jen to the finish line. Not only did I finish first for the team, I had come in first overall. And Jen just looked at me with surprise all over her face. I came in first not because I asked for it, but because I wanted it more.