With shaky knees, I hesitantly made my way up the large white steps. With the back of my hand, I brushed away a few salty tears of relief. As I stood at the top of the podium and looked up into the packed stadium, my mind drifted back to everything I had gone through to achieve this moment, the day I became a state champion.
The start of the 2002 track season found me concerned with how I would perform. After a disastrous bout with mononucleosis ended my freshmen track season, the fear of failure weighed heavily on my mind. I set a goal for myself in order to maintain focus and to push myself like nothing else would. My goal for my sophomore track season was to become a state champion in the 100 meter hurdles. I worked hard every day at practice and went the extra mile, like running every Sunday, to be just that much closer to reaching my goal. The thought of standing highest on the podium in the center of the field, surrounded by hundreds of spectators, overcame my thoughts of complaining every time we had a hard workout. When I closed my eyes, I pictured myself waiting in anticipation as other competitors names were called out, one by one, until finally, the booming voice announced over the loudspeaker, “…and in first place, your 2002 100 meter hurdle champion, from Hotchkiss, Connie Dawson.” It was visions like these that drove me to work harder every day.
As the season progressed, competition started getting fiercer. I was up against girls running at a 5A level, yet, I was able to hold my own. Finally there came a tiny light at the end of the tunnel; it seemed as though I was getting closer and closer to accomplishing my goal. Along with my undefeated title came a huge target painted on my back. I religiously checked “Rocky Preps” every day to see if the competition was gaining on me. It seemed that every time I had improved, there was someone right behind me, running their personal best too. I trained during the weeks before regionals like I had never trained before. Each day my stomach became more twisted with knots that looped around every part of my stomach. I don’t think I had ever been that nervous in my whole life. Finally regionals hit and the pressure was on.
I walked into regionals knowing the lack of competition I would face. Normally this would make me overcome with joy, only this time, I knew it just meant that I would have to work twice as hard. The only time there to beat that day was mine. I had to push myself to get a time that was good enough to seat me in one of the top three places at state. This way I would be placed in a good heat in the prelims at state. As I got into the blocks, I told myself to treat this race as if it were the final race at state and everything was on the line. The gun went off and I sprang from the blocks. The whole way through the race I focused on my form. “Snap your trail leg and don’t swing your arms,” kept running through my mind. I finished first with a time that put me in my favorite lane four at state. Now, only one week left until judgment day.
As the days grew nearer, the butterflies in my stomach multiplied. I realized that no longer was I the top dog. Suddenly I was just a little fish in a very big pond. In the coming days I pictured what state would be like. I would lie awake at night thinking about what could potentially go wrong. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure and false start or even worse, maybe I would fall. I tried to block out these forbidden thoughts and replaced them with dreams of success. I would think about how good it would feel to stand on the top of the sacred white podium, all eyes in the stadium focused on me. No longer would I be thought of as, “just another runner.” Now, when people heard my name, they would know that I was the best 3A hurdler in the state of Colorado.
We arrived in Pueblo and got settled in. I prepared myself for the next day, which entailed running the 100 hurdle prelims, as well as the 300 hurdles, the 4 x 400 relay, and the long jump. Early the next morning we were on our way to Dutch Clark Stadium. We arrived at the stadium and set up camp. It seems that no sooner had we gotten there, that I was already in a 90-degree position in the blocks, anxiously awaiting the gun to fire. The gun went off and in no time at all, I was over the last hurdle and crossing the finish line. I ended up winning the 100 and 300 hurdle heats that day, but realized that the finals in these two races would be a whole new ball game.
Finally the wait was over. I awoke the next morning knowing the task that lay ahead, and realized that I had what it took to get the job done. After arriving at the stadium, just like clockwork, Mr. Cowan said those seven little words that would stay with me the whole day, “Go get them before they get you.” I grabbed my spikes and made the descent down the enormous flight of stairs. I made extra sure to warm up properly, ensuring my chances at success. To get away from all the chaos, I went for a quick jog outside of the stadium. By the time I got back to the track, I had it set in my mind that I knew what I was capable of and would not settle for anything less than my best. I repeated this to myself all the way into the blocks. I stood in front of my lane and stared down the vast sea of hurdles all the way to the finish line. I shook my legs out one last time and nimbly stepped back into my blocks. “Runners take your position…Set……. After the first two commands were given, my mind raced as I thought about a million different things. One of which, was how I was absolutely sure the girl in the lane next to me had flinched. “GO!,” everyone sprang from the blocks determined to get a lead, everyone that is, except for me. My spikes dug deep into the crimson red track as I dashed forward. Determined not to give the whole season up because of one slow start, I laid it all out on the line and everything I had ever learned about hurdling left my mind. With flailing arms and legs, I sprinted my guts out and took the lead. Going over the finish line, I leaned so hard at the end, I’m surprised I didn’t end up going home with some serious road rash as a reminder of my near brush with defeat. Winning never felt so good. I latched onto the first thing I found, which happened to be the 90-year old man, who had volunteered to time the race. Some of my teammates finally ripped me away from him and took me onto the field. I sat on the infield, a perpetual, head-to-toe smile plastered on my face. Soon after, I found myself standing on top of the podium. Standing there, on the top of the world, was everything I had pictured it to be. I graciously received my gold medal and looked out into crowd. As soft, relieving tears ran down my cheeks I knew this moment would forever remain as the day I became a state champion.