Sitting in cobalt blue bar stools at our kitchen counter my dad would say time after time, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, Emma.”
But I always responded the same way.
“No, I do want to.”
And I did. I still do.
I love running. Not just the running itself, but the feeling you get when you just finished running the hardest workout of your life. I love the competition. I love the adrenaline. In fact, the list of things that I dislike about running is much shorter.
But going into my freshman year track season, I was more nervous, than excited. And it wasn’t because the sport was new to me.
I had spent years training for my high school track season.
In middle school spending over two hours at track practice every night–Friday nights were no exception. Christmas Eve? No problem. We would have practice in the morning.
Year round. Five, sometimes six days a week with a meet at least once a month, the word “intense” didn’t even begin to cover the atmosphere of my club track team, The Flyers.
“Go start your one mile warm up,” my coach would scream to us. Every time conspiring with my teammates to only run 10 laps instead of 12, or slow down our pace when our coach couldn’t see us – anything to make it easier.
Thursdays were the worst. Forty minute continuous run – high-knees on the curves of the track, sprint the straightaways. Those were the days it was rare if someone didn’t throw up mid-workout – and were always expected to finish the workout post-purge.
Needless to say, I was ready to show my school what I had worked towards for so many years.
The bell rings as I make a mad dash through the crowded hall to the girls’ locker room. I couldn’t be late on the first day. I pull on my tight black spandex leggings, a generic school t-shirt and my brand new neon yellow Adidas running shoes. After getting changed, I made my way out to the worn-out track as the frigid February wind smacks me in the face.
I walk down the stairs and slowly, butterflies begin to flitter in my stomach.
I couldn’t hear people talking about me, but their rosy cheeks from and cold glares said enough.
“Is that her?”
“She must be good.”
It was only the first day and I was already feeling as though my teammates expected me to be the best.
I tried to ignore the looks people gave me as I stepped onto the red, rundown track. My head was practically spinning around as I tried to find someone I recognized to stand with before practice started, finally finding a group of other timid freshman girls.
Already overwhelmed and flustered I was looking forward to the part of practice most people hate. The running part.
It’s the first day; it can’t be too difficult I thought.
I had been right; physically, it wasn’t a difficult work out.
Seven 100 meter sprints. All out.
As I waited for my teammates to go I stood on the edge of the torn up track.
“Hey you… Coach’s daughter…go!”
Some cocky junior has singled me out, laughing with his friends.
“I have a name,” I screamed back. I had no clue who he even was, but he obviously knew who I was.
I’m the coach’s daughter.
My head was flooded with confusion. Should I have yelled at him? Now people are expecting me to be fast and also think I’m mean. Great start.
My dad is the track coach at my very own school. It was a hurdle that few other athletes had to face. Something that forced me to put loads of pressure upon myself. I would feel pressured to always be down to practice on time. Pressured to be the best in the workouts. Pressured to be in the top of time trials.
And if that pressure wasn’t enough, there was more.
My brother had graduated the previous year. He hadn’t just graduated with academic accolades—he was also one of the best track athletes to ever come through the school. Not only was he on the state team all four years of high school, but had three state titles.
It seemed as though everyone knew him, and in turn, they knew me. They expected me to break records like he did. Expected me to run at one of the nation’s most prestigious track schools like he does. I would do none of these.
The season went on. I was good as a freshman. I won races, got second, maybe third. To not place in the top three was rare.
Like many girl runners, my times have progressively slowed down through the years. Not only have I gotten worse, but I have begun to care less about winning. Sure, I still try hard in every race or as we runners say it, “leave it all on the track.” And I am still my biggest critic. When I lose, though I know it’s coming, I still get mad at myself.
But I am in touch with the fact that I will probably never win an individual track race again. I’ve gotten over the fact that every time I lose people are probably thinking, “Wow, she’s nothing like her brother.” I have finally come to terms with the fact I wont be able to satisfy the expectations of others.