“No- not like that!”
“Do it again!”
The sounds of his mother’s ‘encouragement’ —or lack of— had pressured him to work harder, do better, and try again.
And he needed to work harder, do better, and try again to win the 2020 Sportsman of the Year annual competition at his school. It was only for seniors, and this year was his chance to shine— especially because winners go to the national competitions.
“142, 143, 144…” his mother counted his push-ups.
He pushed himself using the final bit of energy he had before collapsing.
“You didn’t reach 200 yet!” his mother yelled.
He panted, lying on the ground and staring up at the gym ceiling.
“Johnny! Up now!” his mother’s harsh voice scolded. “How will you succeed in life being lazy? Now get up and work harder! Do better! And try again!”
Johnny groaned and rolled on his stomach, pushing himself off the ground.
“5 miles! Now!”
His mother had been his coach ever since he said he wanted to be a professional athlete back in elementary school, working hard to gain trophies and recognition. His mother was kind, but when it came to becoming his coach, she became very strict.
“Can’t I have a break?” Johnny begged, now sitting up.
His mother glared at him. “And where do you think you’ll be going with that attitude?”
He sighed, standing up. “Nowhere.”
She nodded curtly. “Exactly. Now get up and run 5 miles!”
Johnny bit his lip to prevent himself from lashing out, or worse, crying.
His mother sighed, knowing him too well to not notice. “I’m not trying to be harsh,” she began softly, “but you and I both know that if you don’t work hard, you won’t win. I’m just trying to make you work harder. So I need you to suck it up, and work harder.”
He nodded, smiling slightly. “Thanks, Mom.” But she shook her head. “When we’re together like this, I’m not your mom. I’m your coach.”
The week slowly came and went, and the first round of the competition was announced to be held the following day.
There were a total of three rounds, and the one who won the most total points would receive the trophy. First place was a hundred points, second place was fifty, and third place was ten.
Johnny had worked hard to improve as much as he could, and when he competed for the first round, he won all the matches. They had seen who could run the fastest and hit a baseball farthest, with Johnny winning both.
He had noticed Lucas’ stressed face after losing, but he could care less. Noticing that Johnny was watching him, he put on an angry frown and stomped towards him.
“Good game,” Lucas said coldly, bumping into Johnny on ‘accident.’
Johnny ignored him, smiling as he saw the billboard announce he had won 100 points and Lucas had won 50, who was in second place.
Johnny was in the lead but he knew Lucas could easily catch up. He had natural skills in every physical game, and that worried Johnny. Rushing to do his homework on the bus, he came home and began to practice on his own until his mom came home from work to train him.
His mom entered the garage gym, eating a snack, and watching Johnny as he pushed himself to the limit once again.
“When’s the next competition?” his mother asked, breaking the silence.
“Next week,” he panted, continuing to run on the treadmill.
She raised both her eyebrows. “Well, congratulations on your win today. Let’s see if you can win again next week, today I saw your weaknesses and I bet Lucas did too.”
His eyes widened. “I need to know them,” he stated frantically. His mother nodded and ran him through all his weaknesses, paying extra attention to the ones that would most likely affect him most.
“Your right arm is weak…”
“Lean forward more while running…”
“Try to do this…”
Working on his weaknesses and strengthening his best areas, he improved as much as he could in a short period of time.
“You’re doing good, Johnny,” his mother randomly spoke, causing him to jump at the dinner table. He blushed, unfamiliar with his mother complimenting him as his coach.
He would make Lucas regret messing with him.
The second round had arrived quickly, and the announcers confirmed the three matches for this round. There would be basketball, the 100-meter dash, and soccer.
For basketball, whoever could shoot the most basketballs in the hoops in a minute would win, and for soccer, whoever dribbled the ball the longest would win. The 100-meter dash was self-explanatory.
The competition was fierce, and the crowd was bouncing with excitement.
He would try- no, do- his best.
But after the three matches, Johnny didn’t look at anything but the floor, dragging himself home. Lucas had won the basketball and soccer matches, Johnny only winning the 100-meter dash.
At least he was good at something.
Lucas had walked up to him, smirking. “Don’t underestimate me.” Johnny ignored him, pretending that he didn’t hear. Lucas’ proud face softened slightly, understanding the stressful competition created a numbing shock when you lost.
Johnny forced himself to hold in his tears, telling himself that he wasn’t weak. Entering his home, he met his mother’s curious face. She had just arrived home so she was still in a crisp business suit.
“I lost,” he whispered shamefully to his mother, who sighed when she noticed his wet lashes and lost eyes. Somehow, seeing his mother’s disappointed face made his walls crumble, and he wiped away a few stray tears.
“Crying is for the weak. You can do better than this. So go and practice! Work harder, do better, and try again!” He swallowed painfully, nodding, and forcing himself to work harder than he ever had before.
“And Johnny?” she called before he entered the garage gym. “You did good, anyway.”
He may have let out a few tears after hearing that. Alone with his thoughts, he turned on the treadmill and got in, putting the anger and stress into his run.
He knew Lucas would be good at basketball and soccer but he didn’t know Lucas would be that good. He had beaten Johnny by a mile. He had truly underestimated Lucas.
But he had to use his disappointment as motivation to work harder, reminding himself that he could improve. But seeing his failure being projected everywhere on social media, his mindset cracked. “I can do this,” he chanted out loud, forcing himself to stay positive.
“I can do this.”
When he woke up, his mother was already gone but there was a plate with his favorite waffles on the dinner table. Walking forward, he noticed the neon sticky-note. “Show them that you won’t let one loss define you, xoxo Coach.” His heart lifted with love for his mother; she always knew what to do.
That day while walking home, he ran into Francisco, the popular drug-dealer at school. Everybody was warned to avoid him, and he knew it was a good idea. He started walking the other direction, avoiding Francisco’s stare. He would find another way home.
”Wait!” Francisco yelled, calling for Johnny’s attention. “I can help you.”
Johnny paused. He needed all the help he could get, but would he listen to a drug-dealer? He came to a stop and turned around, looking at Francisco’s feet.
“How can you help me?” Johnny fidgeted, anxiety seeping into him as Francisco’s maniac-like smile appeared.
“Why, I’m so glad you asked.”
Fetching a bag of white powder from his bag, he presented Johnny his ‘solution.’
“What’s this?” Johnny peered at it, confused.
“It’s a magical powder... known as meth. Take a hit before you compete and you’ll have an absurd amount of energy. In fact, this is how all the previous winners set new records,” he stated, smirking.
It was too good to be true. But if other winners had used it, it couldn’t be that bad right?
“H-how much?” Johnny stuttered. Should he really be doing this?
“$500, a deal for my special friend.” Francisco waved the bag around, Johnny’s eyes trained on it.
His mixed emotions made him want to puke, but he simply stared at the powder. His knew his hard work would count for nothing if he took it, but he needed to secure the first place spot.
“So?” Francisco pressed, putting the powder right under Johnny’s nose.
Johnny nodded, looking around frantically and avoiding eye contact with Francisco. Francisco gave a single “good” before shooing Jonny away, looking for his next customer.
Johnny argued with himself as he walked home, alone with the thoughts of cheating.
Was it cheating?
Could he accept it?
What if he lost? Because he didn’t take it?
Is it worth it?
He knew it was wrong but he was desperate for the trophy. But would he do anything for the trophy? He had a secret stash of money from working part-time but he knew that he couldn’t just hand over the money.
It was just one hit though, right? He could drop it immediately after and take the trophy home to show everybody.
He wanted to be able to shove his trophy in his mother’s arms and watch her proud smile form on her face. But would she feel the same if he told her that it was because of meth?
As he fell asleep that night, he had made up his mind. He knew it could come with regrets, but he was determined to stick with this choice.
The night before the last round, his mother sat down with him.
“I want you to know that no matter what happens, I am so very proud of you,” she spoke softly. “But you better try you best,” she warned. “Because all I’m asking for is that you try your best.”
Johnny nodded, trying his hardest not to cry. These words meant a lot, coming from his mother, because she never gave encouragement.
He would make her proud.
This final round would be everything. And as he fell into a dreamless sleep that night, the waves of anxiety almost drowned him.
On the day of the competition, as he was walking to school, he ran into Francisco.
“Where’s my $500?” He raised his eyebrows, looking at Johnny’s empty hands.
“What?” Francisco’s eyes widened. But then, he began laughing, slapping his hand against his knee.
“You’ll never win without it… but good luck anyway,” he laughed, wiping a stray tear from his cheek.
“I’d rather lose on pure terms than win by cheating,” Johnny spoke sternly. He knew it was the right choice and he wouldn’t be pressured into making this mistake.
“Your loss,” he laughed, “I mean choice.”
Johnny walked past Francisco, never looking back once.
Francisco watched Johnny as he walked to the school. “He’ll do good.”
Finally arriving in the locker room, he changed and ran into Lucas, smiling at him for once. “May the best man win.”
Lucas smiled nervously. “May the best man win,” Lucas repeated.
“Today,” the announcers spoke loudly, “is the day that we present the Sportsman of 2020 trophy and send the winner to nationals!”
The crowd roared, cheering for the contestants.
“Currently, Johnny and Lucas are tied!”
“Today, the winner takes all!” The crowd cheered even louder, anxiety seeping into Johnny and Lucas. “We also added a full scholarship to the school of your choice! So the winner takes a trophy, a full scholarship, and bragging rights home!”
The audience clapped, friends and families encouraging Lucas and Johnny.
The clapping died down and the announcer looked around dramatically. “We will begin and end with… drum roll please!” The crowd held their breath.
“The winner must run a lap across the track the fastest, winning the 100 points to receive the trophy!”
Johnny wiped his sweaty hands against his shorts. Running was his strong suit, he knew he could do this.
Beside him, Lucas’ face had paled, knowing that it was Johnny’s strength.
“Our top two contestants, to the track!”
Sharing a quick, anxious look, Johnny and Lucas walked to their marked positions.
Johnny took deep breaths, trying to turn his anxiety into adrenaline to win. This would be the deciding factor, and everything was riding on this competition.
If Lucas won, he would lose the scholarship, trophy, and most importantly, his pride.
Slight regret seeped into him. Should he have bought the meth? His thought were interrupted by the piercing whistle.
“Beginning in three seconds! Three seconds!”
Johnny breathed in and out deeply one last time.
“On your mark, get set, GO!” the announcer yelled, the crowd leaning forward in their seats.
“C’mon, Johnny!” his mother yelled from the stands. Johnny stopped running for a millisecond, surprised to hear his mother’s voice but quickly ran again.
Johnny and Lucas were right next to each other, the deafening roar of the crowd was no longer heard. They were in their own minds, focusing on the prize.
Seeing the finish line about 30 meters away, Johnny gave himself a push, noticing that Lucas’ legs were slowing and his breathing was turning to pants.
And he crossed the finish line.
The crowd stood up, chanting Johnny’s name. From far away, he could hear his mother’s proud voice.
“That’s my son!” Johnny smiled at her words.
He hugged Lucas, who was smiling sadly. “Good job, Lucas!”
“You too, Johnny, you deserved it.”
They parted as friends, smiling at each other warmly for once. Johnny then ran up to his mother, hopping excitedly.
“I did it! I really did it-” he got interrupted by his mother engulfing him in a tight hug.
“You did it!” she exclaimed happily, her eyes twinkling.
The announcers cleared their throats in their microphone, calling for everybody’s attention.
“May Johnny and Lucas please come to the podium?”
Smiling at his mother one last time, Johnny walked up the stairs and stood next to the principal.
Turning to Lucas first, the principal placed a medal on him.
“You did very well today, Lucas! Please give a round of applause for our second-place winner with 150 points!” Lucas smiled at the cameras from below, flashing his disappointed eyes.
“And our winner of 250 points… Johnny!” He grinned, fidgeting with leftover adrenaline.
“Before we hand you your trophy, is there anything you’d like to say? Thank somebody?” He nodded and the principal handed him the microphone.
“I only have one person that I want to show my gratitude to,” he said, scanning the crowd for his mother and spotting her raised eyebrows.
“My mother!” He spotted her grinning and flashing a cheesy peace sign at him. The crowd clapped, laughing at this family bonding.
Nodding at the principal, she took the microphone back and placed it on the podium.
“Now, the trophy!”
Two men entered from backstage, holding a giant, golden, physical proof of his hard work.
“To the 2020 Sportsman of the Year, congratulations Johnny!”
He grabbed the trophy from the two men and thanked them, hugging the trophy.
As he was about to exit the locker rooms, he bumped into a crying Lucas.
“Lucas...” he called softly. “You did great today.”
Lucas smiled painfully. “You deserve it. You really do, Johnny. I know you’re going to do great things.”
Without a warning, Johnny wrapped Lucas in a warm embrace, patting his back. “Be proud of yourself.”
That night, the rush of happiness from winning still made him randomly laugh from disbelief. Checking his phone, he noticed that he received a text from an unknown person.
“Francisco here,” the unknown person texted.
“Good job today, I didn’t know you had it in you.”
Johnny thought for a second before replying.
“Thanks for showing me that I was strong enough to say no.”
And with that last message, he shut off his phone and went to sleep, thinking about all the right choices he made.
He fought the pressure.