Tuesday, March 20, 2012

USA and Flo Jo

In 5th grade, I was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt, that I was destined to become a professional hurdler. I was in no way an athletic child, I was always picked last for every team sport (rightfully so), and had the hand-eye coordination of a two day old infant. In Dodge Ball, rather than say, dodging oncoming balls, I would simply collapse into a heap on the ground while flailing my spaghetti thin arms around my head in a vain attempt to smack approaching balls away from my face. In the P.E. Jump Rope For Heart competition, I jumped energetically for about 15 seconds. At that point, I decided maybe eating a sandwich in the equipment room would be more fun, so that’s what I did until the bell rang signaling the end of the contest. During Hoops for Heart, I chucked the basketball as far as I possibly could, and watched in abject horror as it sailed a good 4 feet beyond the goal, right into the face of the principal, knocking him, pinwheel style, into the judge’s table.

While I didn’t possess even a smidge of physical prowess, I did have an unwavering belief that I was Gifted and Talented in each and every way possible, despite continual finite proof that I was in fact not a child prodigy. This was the year my elementary school began hosting short lessons in self-esteem. Already holding the (secret) belief that I was basically the Best Child Ever, I whole-heartedly embraced our school’s positive, self-esteem boosting mantras. This was the year I could potentially be anything! First female president of the United States of America? I had this job in the bag based on my ability to loosely recite the Preamble to the Constitution (if complete accuracy and proper pronunciation didn’t matter). I also already owned a patriotically colored Winnie the Pooh baseball hat and firmly believed that an elephant was a far superior animal to a lame farm donkey. What more could I possibly need to know?

Armed with the unflappable conviction that the future president of the free world could surely win a measly P.E. competition, I marched straight into the gymnasium and signed up for Genoa Elementary’s annual Track and Field Day. After perhaps 3 seconds of thoughtful consideration, I scrawled my name to the list of hurdlers. I based this decision solely on the fact that my mom told me I had long legs the night before when I asked her to name my best athletic feature. You’ll note, she did not say I was a great runner or could leap like a gazelle. Although, I think we can all agree, this sentiment was clearly implied.

The morning of the competition, I asked my mom to pour me a tall glass of raw egg yolk just like Rocky drank before his big fights. Instead, she handed me a strawberry Poptart. Determined to keep my head in the game, I ate the Poptart without complaint and jogged to the bus stop. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t tired after jogging the whole 10 feet (!) from my front door to the bus stop. Obviously this was a sign! I was going to win! Probably, I’d be the fastest hurdler in the history of Track and Field Day. Mrs. Johnston, my P.E. coach, would be so proud; she’d petition the school board to rename the event after me.

I was antsy all day, practically pulsating with energy and excitement. Finally, the afternoon came and the competitions began. The hurdles were last, so I had to endure an entire hour of watching subpar events. Unwilling to wait any longer, I lined up at the hurdles a full 15 minutes before my heat began. After straightening my red, white, and blue Pooh hat, I carefully crouched down into the runner’s stance, and awaited Mrs. Johnston’s signal. After what seemed like an eternity, the long anticipated whistle shrilled, and I was off!

That day I learned a wise and important lesson, and that is: maintaining a runner’s pose for 15 solid minutes is a remarkably effective conduit to immediate paralysis. My legs were utterly useless as they tingled and pricked with sleep. Sensing that Olympic victory, and ultimately the Presidency, was slipping through my fingers, I willed my legs to lurch forward. I took one teeny, wobbling step toward the goal line before directly plummeting; face first, into the ground. Resolute in my determination, I attempted to army crawl under the hurdles; I was doing this for me, my God, MY COUNTRY. Unfortunately, neither my God nor my country heard my silent pleas. I made it to the first hurdle before my dead legs jerked awake, slamming into the side hurdle bar, sending the entire contraption raining down on me in a shower of failed dreams and plastic.

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