The last competitor had been called up. The people in the stadium were silent as the eight athletes got into their lanes, waiting for the race to begin.
In lane three, a fifteen-year-old boy, Jim Lewis, was crouching. He could feel the blood thudding through his veins, his heart hammering away inside of him. His t-shirt clung to his perspiring body as he rubbed his calves with his hands, before coming to rest on one knee.
A lump was forming inside his throat. This was it. Weeks of training, hours and hours of it. Running in the frost, in the heat, in the sun, in the rain, and even in the mud, all for nothing if he failed.
A few metres ahead of him, just to the right of the track on the grass, was a man standing on a small stand. He raised a white megaphone to his mouth with his left, his right clutching the starting pistol.
“On your marks!” boomed the speaker
Jim crouched down low, face down, gazing at the track’s red turf. He raised his head up, looking straight ahead.
The words of a book were running through his head, “Focus on the line. Forget everything else.”
“Get set!” The man raised the gun up into the air.
His muscles tightened. His nerves were almost at breaking point, he wanted to jump about and scream, get all that pressure out of him.
His eyes flitted about the track, along the curved white lines painted on the red turf, all the way till they twisted away out of his vision.
Five competitors to his right and two to his left, all hunched up as well, staggered along the bend, twitching anxiously, waiting for the signal.
A sharp crack of the gun broke the silence. Eight bodies leaped out of the blocks as one.
He had shot out of his starting position and now was furiously racing around the bend.
The red turf was looming up in front of him, it was tugging at his shoes, as if to hold him back. Closer and closer it seemed to come. It seemed to swell up, till it was all he could see, his lane, and the two white lines on either side. Everything else was a blur.
The stadium was thundering with the cries of the spectators, but they were only a buzz somewhere in his mind. All he could hear now was himself, his feet crashing down onto the track, his chest rising and falling. Every bit of him was focused on one goal, the finish line, nothing else mattered.
‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might . . .’
His arms were systematically swinging back and forth, his legs drove down into the pitch, sending shock waves flying up his body. He could feel his lungs starting to burn away.
His legs were stretching out in front of him, metre-eaters he liked to call them. He watched them eat away the track. Faster and faster he ran. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see his closest competitor, almost abreast, struggling to keep up. It was good. His training had been exactly on the spot. One hundred metres left, and he was going full steam.
He imagined himself holding the medal, “Look, Dad, first place!”
It was as he stretched his legs in an effort to accelerate, that he felt it, something others wouldn’t notice. An ever so slight tugging in his right calf. He groaned. Not again.
Eight weeks before, he had done a bad injury the same spot. He had been on crutches for about six weeks. The doctor had told him to take it easy for a while. Sure thing doc. He altered his vigorous training sessions, cancelled several events, but he was still going to this race. This event was his dream, two years of pain and sweat to qualify for it. He would do almost anything to compete in it.
Another tug. He was sure of it now, he must have put too much strain on it as he accelerated.
He quickly estimated how much longer. Just over fifty metres. Maybe he could make it.
The patter of feet behind him spurred him on, forty metres, thirty metres, twenty metres left, almost there — then it happened. So near yet so far.
There was a slight tearing sound, and his lower right leg lost control. He went straight down onto the hard track, skinning the palms of his hands. He felt the breath forced out of him.
Slowly his head was clearing. The pain was shooting up his leg into his body, torturing him.
He could just make out a track assistant running over to him. A blur passed him by; he had been overtaken.
Excuses began to attack him, ‘It’s all over. I’m not going to win. I’ll hurt myself even more if I continue. It’s no use. Time to quit.’
The assistant’s hands reached down, preparing to carry him off the track.
Something rose up inside him. He couldn’t let them. He wouldn’t.
“Let me be!” he cried, pushing the hands away, “I’m fine!”
He rested his head on the track. He felt defeated. The pain was crushing the fight out of him. He wanted to quit, to throw the towel in.
It would have happened, he would’ve given up and quit, if it wasn’t for another race, in another place.
It was early in the morning, in the middle of winter, a race on a soggy wet track, coated in dew. The others had taken off, and he was in the rear, trailing. The leaders were way ahead. He’d be flat out coming second last.
Slowly he stopped running, turned, and walked across the oval. He was cold, his lungs hurt, he had had enough. He walked dejectedly back into the crowd of people.
His coach met him as he headed for the toilets.
“You quit,” he said quietly, “Why?”
“I was coming last. I was out of breath. What was the point of staying there?”
“Because you would’ve finished,” said his coach quietly. “Remember what Paul wrote to Timothy, he said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
“When Paul finished his course, he won. He could have done everything right, but if he never stepped over the line — if he quit — it was all for nothing. God wants to see you finish whatever course He gives you. It doesn’t matter how many people you beat, if you never cross the line, you lose.”
He nodded silently.
“If you start a race, you finish it. It’s not abo ut whether you win or not, its about your principles. Real men don’t quit.”
“Yes, Coach.” he started to walk away, shattered.
“Jim.” called his coach.
He paused and looked back.
“Remember, it’s not all about winning, it’s all about finishing.”
He could still hear that voice, echoing in his head. He stood up on his good leg. He might be lucky and come third, but it wasn’t about winning now. It was about finishing. It was his code of conduct. Come what may, he had to finish.
“It’s all about finishing,” he gasped through clenched teeth.
He got up onto his good leg and started to limp toward the line. His right leg trailed behind him, exploding in pain every time he moved it.
The pain seemed to be consuming him, like an inner fire, burning away. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow, as he bit his tongue to keep from crying out.
Only ten metres to go. He was going to go all the way. He shuffled desperately. The last competitors were running past him.
Just five more metres. A few more steps. He stumbled and fell down. There it was, just in front of him, begging him to go on. He dug his left leg in and gave a final push, his head came to rest just past the line. He had done it. It was all over.
The anaesthetic smell of the room was offending his nose. He was sprawled in a soft chair, his crutches beside him, waiting while the nurse told his guardian all the details.
Bits of the conversation drifted into his hearing “. . . some pretty serious damage to his leg . . . on crutches for at least ten weeks.”
“Alright, come on Jim,” said his guardian, “Let’s get you home.”
She took his hand and helped pull him up.
“It’s a shame your father and mother couldn’t come. Oh well, you can show them the video I took.”
She looked at him and smiled, “Look on the bright side, you almost came third!”
He stopped for a brief moment. “You don’t understand,” he said quietly, “When I went on, it wasn’t about coming third, or any place for that matter — it was about finishing.”
Story behind the story:
Well, I thought I would post this short story. I wrote it two years ago for a school competition. As you might guess, this story comes from personal experience. I use to do track, and this is what it was based on. Ironically, during the convention week, I injured my metatarsals (the bridge of the foot) on my right foot. The next day, I had the 100m, 200m, and 400m races to run in. My right foot was swollen and really stiff. I still ran however, and well, it took over a year before my foot was better (I wrecked the cartilage in my foot.) Though it wasn’t quick as heroic as my hero in the story, it was eerily similar. This story was actually inspired by John Landy. On the eve before his big race, he stepped on glass, cutting his foot. The next day, he ran, losing by a few metres. His story is what inspired my fiction.
This short story is dedicated to my coach, Mark Hancock. He taught me the never-say-die attitude. He also taught me the importance of giving 110%.
“When you get on that court, you are going to give me 100%, and when you’re so tired that you can’t give anymore, then you give me the 10%!”