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Middle School Inspirational American

 I was flying that day.

The kindergarten teacher had taken us outside to the meadow behind the school. It was flush with bright green, young, freshly cut grass. The sky was a perfect, calming blue with round cottony clouds sitting above us — still and regal. Sunlight bathed the field, and birds of all types sang their melismata. There were peals of laughter coming from us five-year-olds, as everything in our worlds made us either extremely happy or extremely sad. Being outside on a beautiful day together was on the happy side. 

She had all of us line up: girls and boys together. Kindergarten was a time for firsts, and that day, the activity that the movement teacher had planned for us awakened something in me. This was the very first day I would run my fastest.

“Ready? Get Set! Go!” said Ms. Krisan.

I took off. I could not see any other children around me because they were all way behind me, I was thinking. 

While I was running that race, I swear, in my mind’s eye, I could see everything as if I were in the sky looking down upon myself. I saw myself, a tiny brown girl with two shiny black ponytails, arms and legs pumping like crazy. And running and behind me, a football field’s length gap between us, were the other children, running at a crawl. 

I felt as if I were gliding above the ground, a ball of pure energy, because my feet were moving so fast. Almost reaching the end of the meadow, the finish line, my heart was racing with excitement, but then I felt a presence. I looked over and saw Donny, a big tall boy, the tallest in the class, trying to gain on me. I felt a light push, but I managed to pull away, opening up my lead —flying faster. I then felt another push: Chris, and this time it was hard. I fell face-first in the dirt. I felt feet trampling over my back. I looked up and saw the whole class ahead of me. Just like that, my glorious moment had ended. I cried, being a champion crybaby at the time, but through my tears, I realized that I was indeed a light-footed bird, who would have won the race, had it not been for the two boys who undoubtedly had seen my dust and marked me for doom. They had done their best to catch me and push me down to prevent me from winning. When I told the story of the glorious race to my parents, I made sure to tell them that I was indeed running at the speed of light until I was pushed, not once but twice, and the second time had stolen my victory.

From that point on, in my mind, I was the fastest child in the world, and I proved it to myself frequently. It is funny, however, how people can hear you but not listen. People can look at you and not see you. I was the second child in the family. Though I continued to excel in any athletic activity, this did not pique my parents’ interest or motivate them to take action. When my class and I took the Presidential Fitness Challenge in 4th grade, I was the shortest, but I jumped the furthest, climbed the highest on the hanging rope, held my body up longest for the pull-ups, and I still ran the fastest, earning a certificate that said I was in the 90% in the nation. My gym teacher said that someone would put a discus in my hand one day, and I would throw it half of a football field. Still, it did not occur to my parents to put me in any of our community’s numerous sports camps and clinics. Yet they could not wait to put my three younger siblings in t-ball at 5 or 6 years old and basketball camps, merely because they were boys. It was as if it were already written; boys play sports, and girls should learn how to clean house, stay out of the way, grow hips and breasts eventually, and then complain about being fat. I, however, was not a good learner.

In 6th grade, I was determined to be on the track team when the announcement was made over the loudspeaker that track was starting. Middle school was a time when children were directly recruited to be on teams, and the track team is what I had been waiting for my whole life. I told my parents. They issued me a single jogging suit, Kmart brand, and I was to wear my Keds tennis shoes: white, flat, and well-worn, as they were also required for marching band and gym. The jogging suit was grey with a pink stripe: matching top and bottom. The shoes too had been acquired from the bargain rack at Kmart, and we had been maintaining them with bleach soaks and white shoe polish for the year.

On the first day of practice, I was noticeably the least cool clothes-wise. While I was wearing my new, but tight Kmart brand jogging outfit that zipped in the front, and flat Keds shoes, everyone else wore more casual workout clothing: sweat bottoms, with shorts to change into when they got too hot, roomy hoodies or oversized ‘sloganed’ t-shirts, and Nike running shoes abounded. It was as if this were not anyone else’s first time being on a team and going to practice, and they had whole workout clothing and running footwear wardrobes.

We were led through our stretches, and then Coach had us walk out to the asphalt track. When he started us on a warm-up, something like a mile, I outdid myself and ended up withering on the ground in pain as the lactic acid crippled me because I tried to sprint four laps cold turkey. I did not know that distance running and sprinting were not the same. Then we did short sprints: 50s, 100s, and 200s. I was in my element — powerful legs propelling me ahead of everyone. 

Ordinarily, I would have been mopey and angry when forced to do something in the most uncool way: having a single jogging suit and flat shoes to run track in every day, but I put it out of my mind because I was running with the wind. I did not want anything to get in my way, and I did not want to miss even one day of running with the team. However, one day, I did forgot my Keds. Usually shy and quiet, I did not let that prevent me from calling out, “Does anyone have a pair of shoes I can borrow? I wear a size 7!”

A teammate, Barb, loaned me her shoes. They were a pair of old, worn-out, sky-blue shoes with thick, cushiony white soles. They had been stuffed in her locker, well-worn but forgotten. I put on the shoes and started walking out to the track. I immediately realized that my feet had been deprived until that moment, as I felt as if I were literally bouncing with every step while wearing those old forgotten shoes that had been living neglected in someone’s gym locked for nearly the whole school year. That day my sprints were like no others that I had ever run. Each day after that for weeks, I tried borrowing Barb’s shoes until one day, she said she “forgot” those wonderful shoes. I was back to my Keds, which now looked to me like a pair of filthy, useless pieces of chewed-up rubber sewed to a dirty white cloth with worn-out shoelaces. But I had to have shoes to run on the track, so I laced them up.

The first day that I had to wear the Keds again, I realized that I had shin splints, which had started healing when I was wearing actual running shoes to practice. I had never noticed that I was injuring my legs running in those Keds, winning my races as I had each day and having never worn running shoes until I borrowed Barb's. I realized how comically ridiculous the situation was at the expense of my parents and me. Why would you send a child to run on an asphalt track every day with a pair of shoes practically made of paper that cost next to nothing if you had financial resources? It was tragic when I thought of my mother being a nurse and how she should have known better. I laughed inside like only a middle schooler can when they realize that they were at the receiving end of a grave miscalculation. 

But I told myself, my feet had wings. The Keds would not destroy me. Nothing would get in the way of my running, not even disinterested parents. The second day of wearing the Keds again was actually a track meet. I was to run the 100-meter dash. Even walking out to the track, I felt flat-footed and stiff in the wrecked shoes. 

“On your mark! Get set — Bam!” The starter’s pistol exploded with sound.

With my mind’s eye, I saw I was ahead of all of the other runners, but this time I heard a little voice complaining about the heavy feel of my legs and how each step of the Ked-clad feet were plopping on the asphalt, punishingly, and delivering jolts to my body that rattled my eyeballs, teeth, hips, and knees. 

“Shut up!” I told the voice. 

In my mind, I saw those Keds stiffen up and tighten and even bulk up as if they had a mind of their own. Again, from above I watched myself and saw my body flying like the wind. I pulled out in front of everyone and I heard the crowd react like they do when there is a run-away winner in a sprint event. At the end of the race, I stumbled over the finish line, and shortly after, I was informed by the timers that I had run my best time.

Bending over and resting my hands on my knees, I saw that I had busted out of the Keds. They had probably been flopping like flip flops as I ran down the straight away.


Taking them off respectfully, I spent the rest of the track meet in my socks. Later that evening, at home, I gently retired those Keds in the corner of my closet, hoping to have them replaced with some new Keds by the next track practice

May 08, 2022 19:21

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1 comment

Rabab Zaidi
01:51 May 15, 2022

Very interesting. But inconclusive.


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