Stay Sharp

Stay sharp. I see you there, in the back of class, eyelids drooping, raised pencil tapping the page as you start to drift off. Sit up. Stay vigilant. In an hour, you’ll become your other self.

Not all superheroes wear spandex, but you do. You fold up glasses and your ill-fitted jeans and trade them for the stretchy red that glows in the sun. You’re not embarrassed. You don’t half-ass your spandex and wear it with running shorts. You pull that suit on and you own it. The tiny clicks as you pull the buckles of you boots tight are a call to action. As you kick anxiously in the start gate and draw in a deep breath, your throat contacts. Sharp, bitter winter air. You love it. If it could curl out of your mouth in tendrils, it would.

Five, four, the official counts down, his sheepskin chopper clamped firmly on your shoulder. In three seconds, you will be brave and gritty and terrifying and graceful, and scared, and agonized, and you will feel the lactic acid saturate you, and when 32 calls track on you, you will hang on her ass, dammit, if it’s the last thing you do, if you pass out doing it. There’s a moment in every race, a split second, in which you decide who holds the reins, your mind or your body. You’ve gotten distracted a few times. You’ve wondered what’s for lunch or thought about the girl who went out behind you. You’ve felt it hurt and thought, I’ll take this hill easy, I’ll make it up on the next one. But what feeling is worse than thinking you’ll pick it back up on the next hill, and realizing it was the last hill you were cresting?

There’s a moment in every race when you decide. The scary thing is, you can’t guess it in the start chute. Today, you could pick the easy route. You could coast it in and place in the forties. Your coach wouldn’t give you a second look, good or bad. You’d go to the team tent and pick out a nice fat brownie off the table, and pull your heart-rate strap from its uncomfortable spot wedged up your sports bra, and huff a little sigh as you pulled your shirt back down, but as you slung your bag of dry clothes over your shoulder and headed for the van to change you’d notice that you can walk pretty comfortably and it doesn’t hurt that badly to lift your bag, and you’ll remember how when you finished you could stand up and un-bind your skis right away, and how you sort of half-assed that back hill, and how when number 32 passed you, you just let her go, and you get this sinking feeling, this feeling as you pull off your spandex that you put it on with an intention, with a resolution, to fight on the side of good and to fight for your team and to defend your team and to cause yourself pain pain pain and agony and risk failure because you get this beautiful opportunity to go outside yourself, and it’s practically sacred, and you squandered it and you squandered your power and your team’s trust for an easy out and doughy legs and an easy brownie whose calories you don’t deserve and as you pull on dry wool socks you make a vow, you make a vow with yourself that tomorrow, tomorrow you will do it right.

You made this mistake last weekend. This weekend you won’t. There is a moment in every race where you decide, and today you’re going to decide right. It won’t bring you a win. Hell, it may not even bring you points. The starter’s chopper shifts on your shoulder, begins to lift. Two. Your every muscle tenses.

One.

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