Currere Stadio

Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Make a race an important element of your story.... view prompt


Fiction Inspirational Speculative


Walking through an antique store, I came across a section devoted entirely to old photos.

Some were in ornate, gilded frames made of wood and plaster. Others were in desktop or easel frames; the size and shape of the photos was as varied as the frames. Round, square, oblong, rectangular; the standard sizes of eight by ten and five by seven were reserved for the more “recent” photos – those taken within the last seventy-plus years.

But what grabbed my attention were the bins and boxes full of loose photos. They were grouped in their various holders by size – small – wallet-size, notecard size, up to the standard four by six album size. 

Next was medium – five by seven to eight by ten and then large – eleven by fourteen and larger. My eye was drawn immediately to a photograph that was on thick cardboard and an odd size – larger than five by seven, but smaller than eight by ten. It depicted a group of eight young women in long sleeved blouses tucked into almost skirt-like culottes. Dark hose and high-topped leather shoes with no heel. The hair on each girl was long and pulled back into a large, dark bow.  They are standing outside with a fenced field in the background on the right and rows of trees on the left – maybe an orchard? It appears to be spring or summer. The date written on the back, in that gorgeous script that belongs only to bygone eras, read: 100 Yard Dash - Field Day – May 28, 1901. No names. No place noted.

One of the girls was smiling, albeit demurely for the photographer, and holding an ornate cup.

The others behind her were showing various facial expressions – everything from the same Mona Lisa type smile as the cup holder to a rather vapid stare. 

Every time I see these photos, the same feeling comes over me. A feeling of enigmatic precariousness. Who were these people? What is the story I’m seeing in this millisecond of an entire life?

And the biggest question of all – Why would anyone just dump photos off at an antique store? Are there no family connections to any of the girls in this photo? I started trying to fill in the blanks with speculations. The girl holding the cup became my focal point. I decided this photo was kept, at least for a while, by her family. She won the cup in the 100-yard dash. She was a champion in this race, on this day in May. She raced on a hot day, in an outfit that is covering almost every part of her body except her head and her hands. She ran. She ran in a time when women didn’t do such “masculine” things. And she ran fast. Faster than everyone else. At least, everyone else in that photo. I kept staring at the photo. What’s her name? How old is she? How did her family react to the win? To the race? To her desire to run.  As the questions arose, I answered them:

Her name is Pauline Bartlett. Why? Because I like how it sounds. ‘Pauline’ has that turn-of-the- twentieth century feel, and Bartlett? I’m not sure. Her face is a bit pear-shaped, so maybe the name of a pear popped into my head, unduly influenced by the rows of trees I assumed to be an orchard. I pegged her age between 17 and 20. Though the photo is in black and white, her hair appears to be a light brown or dirty blonde.  The afternoon sun shines through and offsets a texture of thick, wavy curls. Her eyes are light - either hazel or blue. 

I am aware that I have placed Pauline in the present tense. My reasonable self knew that this young woman grew old and died long ago, probably in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, going by most actuarial tables. But in this photograph – she lives.  She ran a race and won.

The population in the United States in 1901 was approximately seventy-seven million. Pauline is one part of seventy-seven million. She is still almost twenty years away from the right to vote, over thirty years away from any kind of legislation for equal pay, and long after her childbearing years have passed, would Pauline see legal methods to control how many, if any, children she would have. 

I picture her telling her family that she is going to run in an organized race. I want her parents and siblings to support her and go to cheer her on. How many times has she run down the road to meet her father’s carriage? Her younger brothers, struggling to keep up with her, yelling – “Slow down, Leeny!” I have a feeling though at least one member of the household was opposed to her entering the race. I picture a stern aunt – her mother’s older sister by ten years. Aunt Marguerite, known to the family as “Auntie.” Auntie never married. She wears her hair in a tight bun with no provocative tendrils that frame the face. She cooks, sews and tends a vegetable garden. Pauline is a constant source of irritation to Auntie who feels she is “wild” and “unladylike” and never misses an opportunity to tell Pauline and her sister, Pauline’s mother, just what happens to wild and unladylike girls. How Auntie, who has never ventured further than forty miles from the place of her birth, nor ever even had a gentleman caller, would know this remains a mystery.

But Pauline’s mother, who, while her husband was away at first to the Spanish-American war and then the Philippine Insurrection, had to handle the household and the farm, was always encouraging to Pauline. “The Ancient Romans had a saying, Leeny”, she whispered out of Auntie’s earshot, “Currere stadio. Run the race.” There were many such mothers at the turn of the twentieth century. The mothers that saw the country changing, driving forward, running its own race to fulfill an optimistic destiny. Those who pushed their daughters to make the changes for which they toiled to clear the path and lay the gravel for the road ahead. 

What happened to Pauline after that day and that race? That’s a whole other story. An epic one, I have no doubt. This is about a photo in an antique shop. I bought the photo. I have it sitting on my desk. People ask who it is all the time. I say, “That’s Pauline Bartlett. She won a very important race.” “Really?”, they say, “Which one?”

My answer is always the same – “The one we’re still running.”

Currere stadio, sisters. 

February 02, 2024 21:22

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John Rutherford
15:09 Feb 08, 2024

If you want something said ask a man, if want something done ask a woman.


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Luca King Greek
23:01 Feb 07, 2024



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Alexis Araneta
16:08 Feb 06, 2024

What a tale ! I, for one, am with Pauline; I will indeed run the race just because I can (not a literal one, though. I'm hopeless at sport. Hahaha!). Splendid first submission to the site !


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12:57 Feb 05, 2024

I absolutely love this story!


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Ty Warmbrodt
10:43 Feb 03, 2024

Wow! You might be a 1st submission winner. That beautifully entwined a race with women's rights and tied the past to the present. Amazing story and well written.


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