The raindrops are pounding on every part of my body like bullets and my clothes are soaking wet, sticking to every limb like a second layer of skin. I can’t tell if this is because of the torrential rain coming down on me or because of the unusually large amount of sweat that my body is releasing with every step I take. All of the sounds around me are being drowned out by the gushing wind blowing past me. The blistering wind and the heavy rain in no way make my eyes burn less, making me struggle that much more. My muscles feel like they are going to tear right through my skin if I go any further. It seems like everything is against me, but somehow my legs keep pounding against the track, causing a harsh ripple through every nerve.
It’s lacrosse season and if I don’t make the team you can consider me dead. Last year, I was the goalie. Of course, there were others, but I was the only one that mattered. We were undefeated the whole first half of the season and our competitors could never score on us. I wonder why that was? Everyone wanted to be me and I felt sorry for those who weren’t me. That team needed me, even when I thought I didn’t need that team at all.
We went on to our county finals and, in the final minute of the game, the score was tied, zero to zero. The ball was in their possession and, if they scored, the game was over and so would be our season. Some lanky kid with shaggy blonde hair started running straight toward me, cradling the ball with an intensity I knew all too well. Next thing I knew, I made a bold move that I regret every day since that last spring game. I ended up utterly destroying my ankle in ways I had no idea was possible as the white ball sped past me into the net. My reward for once having been the best goalie at my school was an entire summer of friendship with a cast.
Now, here I am, after three months of not working out, struggling to get through conditioning that a year ago I could’ve done in my sleep. As I run, I’m trying to give myself motivation. “Come on, Brady! You did this three years in a row without even breaking a sweat. You even helped coach put this set together.” I repeat this over and over again, or at least that’s what I’m trying to do. Instead, all I can think about is how coach hung his head low under his cap as the opposing team celebrated their win. As soon as that thought’s gone, I remember how Jeff and Rich are the ones to thank for informing the entire school about how I lost the game. But, then again, I’m mostly not thinking at all. The pain shooting up through my body is the main thing clouding my mind.
Every step feels like a thousand needles are being stabbed into every square inch of my legs. I could swear that my bones are currently piercing through the balls of my feet and rubbing against the black tar. My back aches as if I slept on a bed of seashells and my padding isn’t helping, making my body sorer by the second. I think I could be on fire and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that and my current situation.
But I know that if I don’t perform now, I will never get another chance to. My life as an athlete will be over. My life will be over because that’s all I am, an athlete. Yes, I am an athlete. I say it over and over again in my head until my mind finally begins to function again. I am an athlete and I get it now. A real athlete knows struggle. That’s how they persevere and succeed. That’s how they stay hungry for every win and every title. I am an athlete and this is my struggle and now it’s time for me to move past it, until this defeat becomes my past.
A quarter of a mile lies ahead of me and it definitely looks more like a whole mile, but I had to remind myself that it wouldn’t be the end of me. Rather than saying I can’t run anymore, I tell myself that I have no choice. I have no choice, but to finish what I started. I have no choice but to live through my struggle. I have no choice, but to be who I am, an athlete.