by Micah Ford

“Bam!” sounded the starting gun. I plunged forward, knowing I should start off in the first pack. I was running the 3k in the Junior Varsity division, and I felt I needed to win this race. As we passed the first curve, I settled in the third position. Although I felt confident in my running ability, there was something haunting my chances of winning, causing first place to fade far away inside my mind.

The moment I adjusted to a steady pace,  an unsettling hollowness crept silently into my hopeless, vulnerable thoughts. Shoot! I thought to myself, remembering the bad night’s sleep prior to the race. Two days before the start of the race, my brother Jeremiah, my mom, and I boarded a train from Astana to Almaty, which took twenty long, wasteful hours. When we arrived, I was relieved to finally step out of the train into the fresh, pleasant, and breathable air of the Almaty train station. We made it by taxi to our host’s house where we would stay overnight. It was late, about nine o’clock, when we arrived and I was free at last from the dreary taxi ride. We quickly devoured the dinner prepared for us while simultaneously engaging in conversation, trying to be polite to our hosts. Finally, we made our way up the creaky stairs into the bedroom prepared for us: clean and orderly with sheets and a blanket neatly folded on the master bed.

“How did you sleep?” my mom asked the next morning. As soon as I opened my eyes, I peered into the bright, smoldering light of the sun glaring into the room.

“Not good,” I grunted, studying my feelings, searching for an answer that my body would give me straightway, which, unfortunately, turned out to be unsatisfactory. All throughout the morning I kept unwittingly discouraging myself, thinking, No! Why do I have to be the one to not get good rest? What will happen in the race?! Will I run very slowly or have a breakdown? I tried to push the demotivational thoughts out of my mind as I ate breakfast. Those thoughts turned into near panic just minutes before the start of the race.

It was almost a kilometer past midway of the race when the sensation of hollowness and emptiness in my head started to slow me down, to stop me, to destroy me. By that time, only about two kilometers into the strenuous race, I was switching off and on between first and second place with a runner from a rival school, mere inches behind me. I was not breathing steadily, and I was working harder than I would have wanted this far away from the finish line. Struggling during the next couple minutes, I had trouble keeping a well-rhythmed pace, and my breathing came in fast, broken rasps—not a good sign for a leader nearing the finish line. Approximately 400 meters away from victory or defeat, I felt like a cheetah about to give up chasing a gazelle for its meal.

I unintentionally slowed down, leading to another series of thoughts, governed by one daunting thought echoing in my brain resonating into my limbs: Why that one specific night? Then the positive part of myself tried eagerly to push on. I have to do this. I have to finish strong. I heard the sound of heavy, yet steady breathing from behind. It had the sound of hunger for conquest in it, a sound that made me feel helpless in front of the big crowd that awaited us at the glorious finish line. My rival passed me, heading triumphantly towards the finish line. I was now only 200 meters away from victory or 200 meters away from defeat. A fellow runner from Tien Shan hurtled past me, and I became furious and distressed. Did I come all the way across the country for just a bronze in the junior division of cross country?

Grasping for success , I propelled myself forward, gathering every ounce of energy I could find deep inside me, my legs, my arms, my brain: the working powerhouse. I developed a longer stride, quicker steps, and determination. Only 100 meters were left as I passed one runner to take on the second position. I felt like giving up, but I knew deep inside  I just could not do that. We were nearing the finish line.

90 meters from defeat, I thought, although trying not to accept the fact that I might not be able to catch my rival. 80 meters from defeat… Just because of a bad night’s sleep! No! I can’t let this be! And somehow, I felt as if an external force started helping me on, spurring me on to defeat. . . ?

No! I rushed past my rival with 50 meters to go, and in a blur I saw his jubilant, victorious face shift into confusion. I became a cheetah willing to give the chase one last burst. With a feeling of instantaneous pride and victory, I found myself crossing the finish line at full speed, which I would never dream of doing in such a scenario. I found myself victorious, shattering my rival’s expectations. I felt as though I was not in a condition to win but the will deep inside me enabled me to secure the victory under arduous circumstances. I was the cheetah that took the gazelle down triumphantly with this one final surge, giving it my all.

As the day moved on and I received many congratulations from different people, and the very knowledge that my resolve was the main and majestic cause of triumph in the race unlocked for me a new view on willpower, an optimistic one. As I look back, I think about Eric Liddell, how he won a completely odds-against-him race, his success derived from a complete and firm will. This is the stronghold from which I was able to find myself, to push myself, and to bring myself to victory.

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