Friday, September 2, 2011

Hanging On Tight...

Sometimes, in life, we have defining moments.  Moments that change who we are as people.  Moments that we realize something about ourselves, or others, that not only change who we are, but can also change who we will become, for better or worse.  We can all look back on our lives and pick out some of those defining moments.  One of those moments for me, came in high school.  I was an "athlete" in high school.  I put that in quotations, because to the rest of the world, I may not have been the best athlete--but in my small town of Thatcher, where I grew up--that was my label.  An "athlete".  I was not particularly talented at any one sport, however, I was mediocre at several sports, and in a small school, you can get by pretty well being mediocre, so I played 3 sports, volleyball, basketball, and track, plus we played church softball pretty much all summer long in my small town.  I think back then, I really didn't realize how mediocre I really was.  I thought I was a pretty good athlete.  I started on most teams I played on, and our teams always did pretty well (mostly because the other teams we played were pretty horrible--but we always thought we were just pretty good!).  I wouldn't go so far as to say I was arrogant, or conceited, I wasn't.  But I was very confident in my abilities, and really never doubted myself.  I was pretty naturally talented at everything I tried, and it really never crossed my mind that there would be something I would ever fail at. 

Then, my defining moment.  My junior year, I was competing at the state championship track meet in several events, and the 4 X 100 meter relay was one of those.  I wasn't the fastest one on our team, but our relay team had won several meets, and that year, we were expected to win state.  I was the first leg of the relay, since I had a pretty quick start out of the blocks, and in the preliminary race, we had broken a state record for the fastest relay time, beating out other schools by almost 2 seconds to qualify for the finals.  I was very confident that we were going to win, which was exciting, since I didn't yet have a GOLD medal from a state tournament yet. I remember that race so vividly.  I can still see the gunfire as the race started.  I felt so quick going out of the blocks, and really felt good running.  When it came time to hand off the baton, something I had done 100 times in practice and in meets, everything felt like it was going just right--until...I missed.  I had the baton in her hand, and I thought she had it, and it just fell.  It was almost like slow motion then, as I watched it fall onto the track.  The other girl grabbed it, and tried to keep running, but in a race that is decided by hundreths of a second, there was no catching up, no redemption, no chance.  The race was lost.  The rest of that whole day was like a bad dream.  I competed almost immediately after that race in the 400M, where I was seeded 3rd in the preliminaries, only to come in dead last in the finals.  I competed in the high jump, and didn't even make half the height of my personal best.  Finally we competed in the 4 X 400 M relay, where we were supposed to come in at least 3rd, but my heart just still wasn't in it, and we did terribly.  I'm not sure if I have ever, even still, 20 years later, felt as low as I felt that day .  It was like it hit me all at once--a voice I had never heard before inside my head.  A voice that said--YOU SUCK.  You can't do it.  You're terrible.  It's all your fault.  Man, that bus ride home was one terrible ride.  3 hours with only a tissue to wipe the tears, and those terrible thoughts running through my head.  I never wanted to see a track, ever again!

The next year, my senior year, track time rolled around way too quickly.  We won a state championship in volleyball that year (my favorite sport by the way ♥), and basketball went great as well, even though we placed low in the state tournament, it was still a good season.  But when it came time for track season to start, my heart just wasn't in it.  I just couldn't go out there after the disaster at state, and face all of those people, and coaches that I felt I had let down.  I was the one who had CHOKED.  How could I possibly try again--and even more frightening, what if I dropped the baton again?  In short, I decided that the two sports were enough, and I was going to sit out track season this time.  It was my senior year anyway, and I was tired, and burned out!  I remember walking by the gym, and seeing all of my friends headed out toward the field to practice, and I just walked quickly the other way, hoping no one would notice.  I walked home, and fixed myself a snack, and just vegged on the couch--a rare luxury, since there was pretty much NEVER a time in 4 years of high school that I wasn't playing a sport!  This isn't going to be so bad, I thought.  Not bad at all.  Then I heard a truck pull into the driveway.  I'll never forget looking out the window to see who was there, and seeing Mr. Phillips, my track coach, getting out of his truck, and heading to my front door.  My first thought was to hide--and see if he went away.  But I saw him catch my eye as I was getting out of the blinds--and I knew he saw me there.  I was caught.  I will never forget the conversation that followed.  I opened the door, and Mr. Phillips says, "I just came to see why you aren't at track practice?"  I said, "Well, I decided I wasn't going to go out this year, seeing as last year was such a disaster."  He said, "So you're going to just quit then?"  I was like, "Well, I'm not really quitting--I'm just not going to go out.  I have a lot going on, and I just thought it would be better if I didn't run track this year."  He says, "Tami, I really misjudged you.  All these years I've  known you, I have never thought of you as a quitter.  It's too bad really, to let a dropped baton stop you from achieving something great, I expected better from you."  I know my face was red and hot, since I could feel myself sweating.  Then he said this:  "You can let that dropped baton stop you from coming out for track this season, or you can decide that no matter how many times you drop that baton, you will still have the pride and the determination to pick that baton up and keep running.  You may think this is only a decision that will affect you this year, only for a track season.  The way I look at it, this decision will affect the way you live the rest of your life.  Tami, are you a quitter, who drops the baton, and leaves it there on the track and walks away, or are you the type of person who decides that one lousy dropped baton isn't going to stop me from reaching my dreams.  There are two types of people in life, there are achievers, and there are quitters.  Which one are you?"  Talk about a defining moment.  I walked into my room, changed my clothes, put my tennis shoes on, and rode with my coach to practice. 

It's almost surreal when I think about that experience today.  What a wonderful coach, and man that was to take the time to leave track practice, seek me out, and motivate me to do what I needed to do.  That year was a turning point for me.  I set my mind on a goal to ACHIEVE, not to fail.  That year, our 4X100 relay took the state champion gold medal, with me running the first leg of the race again.  I took 2nd place in the 400M with my best time of 58.2 seconds, only losing by a tenth of a second.  Our 4X400 relay took a gold medal as well. I even took 5th in state in the high jump--finally clearing 5'6"--a personal best (and 1 inch taller than me!) Because of one person, my life, and my attitude would never be the same.  I learned that deep down, I was NOT a quitter.  I could get back up, and do better, no matter how many times I fall.  That's what I love about sports, there are so many lessons we learn from competing.  It's also what I love about a good coach, they can motivate you on and off the field to accomplish great things, and to be your best self.

Lately, we have had some struggles. (DUH-like I haven't complained about them enough).  As I get ready to pack up and move away from the home that I was sure would be my last, (to where I'm not really sure yet) and start over in a business that is like the first--all the while trying to fight a legal battle I'm not sure we'll win, and settle debt that has racked up during our failed business attempts--I'm really not sure how things are going to work out.  I am sure of one thing, however, and that is: I am NOT a quitter.  I might get knocked down, I might get bloodied, and bruised, and I might drop the baton from time to time, but I will pick it up and keep running.  We are always going to have set backs, we will always have struggles, but this life is NOT a race to the finish!  We can take our time, we can start again, we can learn from our mistakes.  If I have learned anything in my life, it's that I can do hard things.  We never WANT some of the challenges we are faced with--but we can face them head on, and fight, and with any luck (and a LOT of prayer and faith) we will come out on top.

During the awards banquet my senior year, my coach Mr. Phillips, made me a special plaque.  It was a "Handoff Award", and glued to the top was that dented, dirty, dinged up old relay baton that I had dropped my junior year.  Under the inscription Handoff Award were the words, "For hanging on tight--even when it's hard"  A lesson I will never forget.

1 comment:

Ashley said...

Hope things get better for your family...sometimes in life we have no choice to quit and sometimes that really sucks but things seem to always work themselves out.

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