Suzie arrived at the school’s athletics track to chat with her friends before tonight’s training at the Running Club. She had known the four of them since their first day at school and they’ve been inseparable ever since. John and Ernie were long-distance runners and always excelled at the annual cross-country. Lily and Rob were the cutest couple of the school, always joined at the hip. By the sounds of their constant, but mostly harmless, bickering they sounded like an old married couple!
“Hey guys. I just remembered the 400m race is two weeks away!” Suzie said excitedly to her friends.
“Oh, you’re braver than I am! I’m more into distance than speed.” Says Ernie.
“Good luck!” says Rob, “Do you feel ready and prepared?”
“Yeah, almost. I’ve just got to-”
“Well, well, well.” Said Queenie, sauntering her way over to the private conversation among friends, purposely interrupting Suzie.
“Looks like you’ll be sorely losing that race because I’m also running it.” Puffing out her chest and putting her hands on her hips like she was some superhero.
Suzie glared at her. Of all the people to burst her bubble it would be her life-long rival. Queenie was an infuriating woman – tall, slender, pretty and smart. Everyone dreamed of being Queenie, but she is just insufferable. Suzie and Queenie are rivals in every class they have together: English, Maths, P.E., sciences, everything. Their grades would always be one point off each other. Now that they had hit the final year of school all the students and teachers knew about their infamous rivalry and how hard they would work just to beat the other. Normally, Suzie would keep her distance and focus on seeing her friends and getting the most out of the training.
Today, it looks like Queenie just happened to overhear their conversation and decided to butt in, as usual. She must be the centre of attention; she must win at everything and put others down… she thrives off being the petty person that she is. What’s even worse is her actual name is Paige, but she insists everyone calls her Queenie, to make sure that people know she thinks of herself as most important. The hatred that Suzie has for Queenie runs deep, something she’s never been able to change her mind on or give the benefit of the doubt to.
“You know what, Paige,” Suzie said, deliberately trying to wind her up, “I’m going to win this competition and leave you in the dust.” Queenie snorted, and an expression flickered over her face ever so quick, but Suzie could have sworn she looked worried. “I wouldn’t bank on it, Suze. I’m going to win our little competition once and for all!” Queenie masked the fear with her usual over-confident stare and strutted back to her gaggle of girls.
Suzie was determined to beat Queenie, she had to! The running club kept a tally of how many races the pair had run against each other, keeping score of who won. The first one to win 5 races was to be crowned ‘Ruler of the Running Club’ with a special medal made and engraved (Suzie specifically asked for the wording to be ‘ruler’ as she couldn’t stand the thought of being known as Queen, like her rival). The pair of them had, infuriatingly, won 4 races each and this race was to determine the winner. There was no way on Earth that Suzie was going to let Queenie lord this over her like she has with everything else she achieved.
A couple of days later, Suzie had a session with her running coach, who her parents had hired to keep her on track. His name is José and they have gotten on like a house on fire since their first session six months ago.
José talked her through a set of drills for today’s session and as she was going through the motions she decided to indulge in a rant about the irking conversation with Queenie at the club, including details on their famous rivalry. When she was done about half an hour later, José looked as if he were battling with something internally.
“What is it José? Do you know her? I’m so sorry if I insulted one of your friends, she really does my head in.” Suzie said, hurriedly trying to back-track.
“No, it’s not that. I don’t know Queenie. I had a thought, but I really shouldn’t say. Focus back on the drills!”
“No, come on. You can tell me anything, you know that.” She said, imploringly.
“I’m not telling you and that’s that. Let’s get back to work.” The looks on his face silenced all the questions that were bubbling up inside Suzie. As they finished their session there had been no mentioning of what José was thinking. They said their goodbyes and José headed home.
Later that night, Suzie got a text from an unknown number:
“Hi Suzie, my mate Jose mentioned you have a rival issue for your upcoming race. I might have a solution for you! Gimme a call when you can talk, and I’ll give you the details. – Sarah”
‘How intriguing’, thought Suzie. She found it odd that some stranger was texting her, she guessed that meant José passed on her number to this Sarah. ‘I wonder what possible solution Sarah has in mind…’
Suzie hit the call button next to the number. It rang twice before Sarah picked up.
“Suzie! I’m so glad you called, José told me all about your problem with this Queenie, who sounds like a total b*tch by the way! I have the perfect thing for you and your 400m race and it will show Queenie who should actually be boss – here’s a hint, it’s not her!” Sarah spoke so quickly and so enthusiastically that it was hard for Suzie to keep up.
“I’m sorry, José didn’t tell me anything about you. Who exactly are you and how is it you can help me?”
“Ah, well, I’m the perfect person to squish this kind of anxiety and worry before a race. You’ll be so fast that Queenie will just feel the wind through her hair as you speed past!”
“Right, ok.” Suzie said when Sarah paused as if waiting for an answer. “So, what is it you’re proposing?”
“I have a wonderful supplement for you! You simply take it an hour before the race, and you’ll be the fastest you’ve ever been! It’s a real boost, I can tell you that.”
“What kind of supplement is it?” Suzie asked, slightly dubious.
“Oh, it’s one with a really complicated name but I promise you it’s good. Lots of athletes use it and they get top marks. Wait, are you having a drugs test before the race?”
“No, I’m not. Why, should I be?” Alarm bells are suddenly ringing.
“That’s alright then, you should be fine. Some judges are a bit… sensitive about this supplement but I promise you it’s their own misunderstanding of it that causes all the issues. Ok, so I’ll get a batch ready for you, shall I drop it off with José for you to pick up at your next session? Ok, great. I promise you’re going to love it! I’ve got to go now, buh-bye!” Sarah hung up before Suzie had the chance to answer any of her questions.
With that odd phone call, Suzie was left feeling anxious. She had no clue as to exactly what kind of supplement this was, and why were some judges ‘sensitive’ about it? Does that mean it’s bad? Whatever it is, could it be worth it if it means beating Queenie once and for all? All these thoughts were racing through Suzie’s head. She decided to wait until she saw José in a couple of days’ time to figure out what was going on.
Suzie’s next session with José rolled around quickly and she was anxious to get answers. Before the training began, she decided to hound José with questions.
“Who is this Sarah that wants to give me supplements to help with race day? Did you give her my number? How do you know this woman? Are they legit supplements or is there something weird about them because I think there’s something weird about Sarah?” Suzie was not one to hide what she meant.
José looked a little stunned by the barrage of questions but also looked like he expected them. With a sigh, he reluctantly gave some answers.
“Yes, I did give your number to Sarah and I’m sorry I didn’t ask you first. I’ve known Sarah for a while through friends of friends who go to her for her ‘supplements’ regularly. They are legit in the sense that they really do have an impact on your performance and people tend to do better on them…” he trailed off. Suzie eyed him suspiciously.
“José? What exactly are these supplements?” He looked down at his shoes for a moment, then lifted his eyes to meet hers.
“Why don’t we do some hill training today? That’s something we haven’t done much of.” He said, hopefully trying to change the subject.
“José! Be honest with me!” Suzie wasn’t going to let this slide.
“Fine. They are performance enhancers.” José even looked disappointed in himself.
“How could you even suggest that – I’m 16 years old!” Suzie was shocked and angry that José would do this. He was an esteemed running coach, why would he risk tarnishing his reputation?
“You went on and on about Queenie and how much you’d love to show her up for once. You’re fast but I thought this could be a sure way to beat her. I guess it depends on how much you want to beat her.” Suzie did debate this sentiment. He’s right, it would be the way to beat her for sure, despite the months and months of training she’s put into this race to at least beat her personal best.
“Did Sarah give you some to pass on to me?”
“Oh, uh, yes she did. Hold on.” José seemed taken aback by Suzie agreeing to take them off him, but he obliged and got out the tablet in a plastic bag the size of a sticky note. He looked down at the little packet, as if debating his life choices, and then handed it over to Suzie.
“This doesn’t mean I’m definitely taking it,” she frantically adds, in case of judgement, “I want to have all my options available to me on the day, that’s all.” Suddenly, Suzie feels a bit sheepish. She now understands the look José had on his face moments ago.
With one week left to go until the race, Suzie was getting herself mentally and physically ready. Usually this process had a calming effect on Suzie, and she would come out of it feeling on top of the world, ready to take on anything. This time around however, unease was creeping in. She couldn’t stop thinking about the enhancers and whether or not she should take them. Suzie debated it in her head, she debated it out loud to José in training, and she even did a pro’s and cons list but none of it helped her. On one hand, she could take it to beat her personal best and Queenie. On the other hand, what if it had a bad effect on her and she vomited in the race, or worse? What if her parents found out about this?!
If she didn’t take it, would she always wonder ‘what if?’, would she kick herself for it if Queenie won? But she could feel safer by not taking it as she had never taken any form of drugs in her life. Suzie was wrestling with these kinds of thoughts almost every minute of every day that week. It kept her up at night with new justifications or excuses. In the end, it boiled down to whether Suzie wants to beat Queenie once and for all or if she wants to see the true results of her training and risk a loss.
Finally, race day rolls around. It’s a beautiful Saturday spring morning – the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky, a fresh crispness filling the air. The temperature was perfect for Suzie too, but she couldn’t enjoy it. Suzie was utterly restless. Regardless, she got out of bed and readied herself for the day ahead. She got dressed into her running gear and packed a backpack with water, sports drinks, a big pack of jelly babies, and that tiny result-altering plastic bag.
Suzie arrived at the race venue to chat with her friends who had come along to support her from the side-lines. All four of them were absolutely buzzing with energy and were encouraging Suzie with their kind words. Suzie heard these words, but they felt a distance away from her, despite only being within a foot of her friends. Noticing the clearly clouded concentration, Suzie decided to head to the changing rooms to drop off her stuff and clear the brain fog on her own. In the changing rooms, she found Queenie, but she didn’t look like Queenie. She had dishevelled hair, black streaks of mascara running down her face and puffy red eyes. This completely disarmed Suzie, she had never seen Queenie in any state of vulnerability. Queenie realised Suzie was gawping at her and span around to face the other way.
“Don’t look at me!” Queenie sobbed.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s nothing! Why would I talk to you about it anyway?!” Queenie snapped, trying to shake off Suzie’s curiosity.
“I’m also in a bit of a weird place before the race… do you want to talk about it? Maybe we can clear our heads, together?” Suzie gently suggested, softening her voice and posture.
“Oh. Um, I’m not sure I want to…” Queenie started to turn around. Queenie’s mouth opened and everything came tumbling out.
“I just can’t bear it anymore! My parents talk about my running ability non-stop, everything I do isn’t enough; I’m not fast enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not focussed enough. They want me to be this girl with the perfect grades and the perfect running times and it’s all getting too much! Maybe I don’t want to run anymore! Do they think about that – no! But if I stop now, they’ll see me as the disappointment I really am and they would never forgive me for giving up on their dream – I couldn’t bear to look at their faces every day and see that destroying look on their faces.”
Wow. Suzie realises how small her problem has been, she simply wanted to win at an old vendetta but for Queenie this was a world of stress. The hatred she holds for Queenie started to soften… maybe Queenie is just a stuck-up cow because of all this pressure her parents put on her.
“That sounds awful, Queenie, but if your parents are like this then it sounds like nothing will ever be enough for them. So, what if you win this race, that won’t get them off your back, they’ll just push you to get faster, stronger, focussed and enter another race. You will endlessly train for something that you don’t event want, by the sounds of it! You should be honest with them and tell them how you feel. Do you even like running?”
“I did when I was younger, but not anymore. Once I showed some interest in it and won a race as a fluke, they wouldn’t leave it alone. It’s nice to see them so excited about something I’m doing because otherwise they don’t show much interest in me as a person. It’s nice to have their attention.” Queenie admits, transforming into the little girl who has been starved of her parent’s affection.
“I can see that but, can’t you see the state you’re in right now? That’s your parents doing. You can be your own person and still be loved by your parents. Maybe show them some other activities you’d be interested in doing and tell them how excited they make you.”
“Hmm, maybe you’re right.” Queenie admitted, noticeably calmer. “I’m so sorry for dumping all of this on you, it’s been a rough morning. Don’t you dare tell anyone that I apologised to you, I’d never live it down!”
“No, I won’t” Suzie said with a laugh. She put down her backpack to get out a drink and remembered what else she had in there. She had a lightbulb moment.
“I know!” She spun on Queenie, “We’re roughly the same speed, right? Why don’t we purposely tie first today? That way you haven’t won or lost, so your parents can’t be too mad at you.” ‘And, I don’t have to cheat my way to victory’ she thought happily to herself.
“That sounds like a good idea, I can rest up a bit going at your pace” Queenie said with a cheeky grin and a wink.
With that dilemma resolved, Suzie’s brain fog had vanished. Queenie gathered herself up, wiped at her face and they walked out together to take on the race.