The race is finished and here I am, on the ground in a huddle.
Silence. Not a word from the students and teachers in the stands. The whistle blows; the race is underway. I’m nervous! It’s only a Teachers 4×1 relay!
Growing up, one of my secret aspirations was to be a track star. I was totally raw. I had won a few street races and spent some time training with friends at a local track during my mid to late 20s. Otherwise, I was pretty green, and it was nothing more than a pipe dream I kept to myself.
The first leg is over. Second leg has begun. I can see by now that we are NOT leading this race! I’ve got some work to do. Why did I take the final leg- the glory leg? Because I wanted the glory!
During high school, I was too short, too heavy or too untrained to be selected to represent the athletics team, so I never did. Though this didn’t stop me daydreaming about my victory stride across the finish line: the victory lap and the stadium medal in front of home fans… I experienced daydreams like this right in to my 30s. I’m currently 34.
I can visualise the finish line. I’m pretty good at sussing out my competitors and fancy my chances. Even with a few milliseconds behind I could possibly catch up and level, at least! This will be a picture finish. I can leave the races I’ve lost behind me! Who am I kidding! Why did I sign up for this? Because I love to run… Okay- I love to win!
I promised myself I wouldn’t participate in anything “fun” at my new school. I’d stick to what I was being paid to do: Plan, teach, mark, run my department. But the quiet talk at lunch between staff members as they assembled their 4×1 relay dream team; the fight talk; the competitive buzz; the stories of past sports day heroics… The call back to the beloved polyurethane surface was too loud, too persuasive, too much of an opportunity to miss. So, I agreed to take part. I was the new kid; what’s the worst that could happen?
“Come on!” I growl to myself as if it’ll bring the baton around any quicker…the baton is almost here. We’re behind! Heart beating, arm outstretched…
It had been a while since I’d raced. Okay, it had been a few years! I dragged myself out to the local park for a lone training session and left partnered with a level 1 groin strain. At least, that was my self-diagnosis. Several days later, and the groin strain was still there. I couldn’t possibly race and risk further injury. That would be stupid.
Several work colleagues asked, “Are you going to race, Cal?”
I responded swiftly, “No. Injured- not this year.”
The morning of the sports day had arrived and I left the house, deliberately leaving my spikes at home. “I’m not racing,” I told myself. Even Zara warned me not to run.
Well, it was an entertaining sports day filled with excitement, cheer, last gasp leaps across the finish line, and then it was time for the teacher’s relay! “Where’s Mr Muirhead? Are you running Sir?” asked a colleague.
“Yeah, go on then.” Back in the race! I spent most of the day with an ice pack. I felt warm. What would Bolt do? I can’t disappoint the fans. I’m ready.
My original relay team had disbanded by then so I was team-less. Now, I was no Usain Bolt, but I was medium height, stocky, oh yes- and Jamaican! No questions were asked when I responded to the call. “We’ll have you on our team. You look fast,” a colleague said just before we were drafted into position.
…Baton in hand- I’m off! My technique is a little poor but my head is down, breathing through it, I’m building speed, I’m rising in to full stride (riiiiiip). “Arrggghhh” (tumble). I’m down. Rolled over. Clutching my inside leg. I’ve done something. For the first time in my life I’ve done some real damage, I just know it.
Silence. The race is finished and here I am, on the ground in a huddle, head in hands. The Head teacher and Deputy jog over and help me to my feet. How could I be so irresponsible? What would I tell my Mrs? Can this get any more embarrassing? Oh, yes! The Head teacher discreetly asks me to remove my hand from my groin area as the students are watching. Oops! Ground, open up and swallow me, NOW!
As I hobble down the track a colleague helps me across the finish line in typical Derek Redmond fashion, to rapturous cheers from students and staff alike, clapping me across the finish line. But all I can hear is laughter and ridicule. I’ve eaten the entire humble pie.
It so happened; I induced a grade 3 tear of my left adductor. I had to pay for and undergo private physio. It took me several months to recover.
Oh, the pain and embarrassment; the extra ball of swelling on my inside leg; the walking stick to work; my bruised ego. I sucked up the pain and didn’t tell my wife what actually happened until a couple of weeks later.
In hindsight, I really had nothing to prove, but my pride ignored the voice of wisdom. Will I race again? I did-the following year! That’s for another blog post! I’ve learnt my lesson though. Swallow your pride folks. It’ll choke you if you don’t.
JCMC: Anyone out there with a secret dream? Do share.