My First Athletic Achievement

I was 17 years old. It was athletics day at our school, and I was sitting on the pavilion shouting insults at the opposing team, the way it always happened. I resolved that I was not going to put my feet on the athletic track. “I’m not a sporty person, and don’t like it either,” I thought.

But that was not to be. Our cheerleader was a very dynamic leader, and had a forceful personality. There were items where very few people participated. He eventually made us do it.

I cringed into my little corner, sneaking behind someone taller, hoping he wouldn’t pick me.

“Tracy, I need you to run the 1200 meter race.” “I’ll never make it,” I told him.

“I know you can. I believe in you,” he said, “and besides, I’ll lead you. You’ll make it.”

His words sounded very encouraging, and with much trepidation I took his arm.

At the sound of the shot, we were off. Getting half way, my will started to fail. “I can’t. I won’t make it,” I told him. But his words of encouragement and patience kept me going on.

When I reached the finish line, I felt ready to expire. But I made it!

Forgetting about the experience, I carried on with my day-to-day existence.

“Will all the pupils who won a prize in athletics please stay behind to receive your certificates?” the principal said, as he started to read out the names. I relaxed, knowing I’ve never received an athletic certificate before. A jolt of surprise ran through me as my name was called.

When it was my turn, I asked the teacher what I was getting a certificate for. “Coming second in the 1200 metre race,” she told me. “What, I came second?” I mused with my mouth hanging open. And that forever burned the memory of that long run into my mind.

At my toastmasters club, during contest time, I am often asked to describe a notable accomplishment. I get a couple of chuckles when I tell them that I came second in athletics once – but there were only two athletes.

The other day a friend and I were talking about what the first thing or person is that pops up when you think of leadership. My first thought was not of Mahatma Gandhi or Madiba. No, the first thought that sprung to mind was of that cheerleader, who patiently motivated me to do what I believed could never be done. He did not get any recognition, and probably doesn’t know that I remember him. Thanks to him, if I had any such inclinations in the first place, I could take getting an athletic achievement off my bucket list.

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