The Girl Who Beat Me By a Shoe

Posted: 2008-11-04 in General
Tags: , ,

When you were a kid, did you ever run so fast and so far that it felt like you were flying?  I did, all the time.

I don't remember when I first knew I was a fast runner.  Countless soccer matches, Phys. Ed. shuttle runs" (complete with blackboard erasers), pick-up footraces ("last one to the trees is a dork!"), and President's Challenge Physical Fitness Tests made the other students and myself hyper-aware that although I may not have been the most coordinated kid in school, it was a good thing to have me on your team if speed could give you an edge in the competition.

Running, however, for me, was almost never about competing (at least, not until I was a teenager and realized running might be my "calling" through the rest of school).  I embraced the joy of the fluidity of motion, arms and legs pumping in time as I flew across the field, around the track, or even up and down flights of steps.  When I ran, I wasn't the "me" that I was the rest of the time – I was both something more, and something less.  You could devote your mind, body, and soul to the run and leave everything else behind, for a few short, breathtaking minutes of unchecked bliss.

The first (but definitely not the last!) time I realized that you could actually keep this feeling AND compete while running will always stick with me.  Because of this epiphany, of course, but for another, more simple reason, as well.  I will always remember the first time I felt this way, because it was the race where my opponent was The Girl Who Beat Me By a Shoe.

The Girl's name was Kathy, and we were both in the 4th grade.  I can't recall if we were in the same classes most of the time that year, and I can't recall if we had ever participated in any kind of race against each other before that day in P.E. class.  All I remember is that day, we were running "THE MILE", and that I knew that Kathy was fast.  Fast enough, in fact, that there was talk of her being the fastest kid in the entire school – even faster than any of the fifth graders.  

Like any group of elementary school kids, the unguided pre-run "stretching period" quickly broke down into groups of kids gathering together to gossip and talk about anything and everything.  This time, the class noticeably split into two groups: the boys and the girls, each quickly announcing to each other that their "representative" in the gender war would be the victor in the upcoming race.  As I sat on the ground, stretching my legs, I started getting claps on the back from various boys in the class – all of whom made clear they were counting on me to keep that oh-so-important male honor from being tarnished by being "beaten by a girl".

As we all lined up on the white chalk-line marked on the grass by the start of the course, my only focus was on the butterflies in my stomach.  Kids jostled here and there for position on the line, sure that any extra half-inch they could cut off the beginning of the race would make all the difference in their finish.  Ironically, this was to be all too true for my own situation, seven minutes after the teacher blew his whistle and sent us all sprinting pell-mell across the field into the first of four laps around the quarter-mile course.

None of us knew the first thing about pacing ourselves; we all took off like the Devil himself was on our heels.  It was only after that first frenzied sprint that people slowed down and settled into their most comfortable, ground-eating strides.  And after that first madcap dash, I found myself at the head of the pack, Kathy right on my heels.

She trailed me doggedly for the first two laps, only a step or two behind at all times.  After that first turn, I wasted no time turning to see if she was still on my tail; I was flying across the grass as if the wind itself were carrying me along.  I could sense Kathy's presence behind me, but rather than imposing on the elation of the moment, it added to it.  When she passed me to take the lead at the beginning of the third lap, I hardly noticed the cheers of the other female runners, strewn by now all around the circumference of the race course.  Instead I was focused on the bouncing blonde bob of Kathy's hair and the small of her back, urging my tiring legs onward to new feats of strength and endurance.  I began to chase her, pursuing just as I had been pursued.

We began to run side-by-side as we entered the fourth lap.  Both of us were lagging now, winded and tiring from our lightning-fast dashes – those better suited to a much shorter race.  A crowd of kids had gathered by the finish line: other runners who had decided to delay their own last couple laps until after they saw how this epic struggle would end.  I started to sprint.  I pulled ahead of Kathy.

The shouts and cheers of boys and girls alike filled my ears as I flew towards the race's end.  Underneath the noise, I could hear my own harsh breathing, and that of one other.  Kathy had caught up to me, and was about to move past me.

With less than ten feet to go, my attention was pulled away from the focus of the finish line to something bizarre, something white, something flying through the air – a white Keds slip-on shoe.  One of the ones Kathy had been wearing.  Kathy's shoe crossed the finish line a mere second before she did.  It crossed the finish line a mere second and a half before I did.

As we collapsed on the ground near each other, gasping for breath and clearing the euphoric fog of our run out of our brains through our open mouths, I remember telling Kathy, "Congratulations.  I guess you won by a shoe."  At this, we both broke up in an attack of giggles so strong that by the time we were able to overcome them, Kathy was upright and mobbed in congratulatory hugs by what seemed to be about half the girls at the school.

As for me – I took my time getting up and dusting myself off.  I smiled ruefully at a handful of offered consolations of "You'll get her next time" and "Man, that was too close to call".  Inside, however, I was wearing a grin larger than any that had ever made their way to my mouth.  It was only then that I realized how much running really meant to me, and that I'd always be able to thank The Girl Who Beat Me By a Shoe for the amazing gift I received that day.

[NaBloPoMo 2008 – #4.2/30]

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  1. crankypants says:

    and it wasn't even a RUNNING SHOE?!


  2. Steve Betz says:

    What a GREAT story — really well told. As I was reading, I found myself rooting for you — even though the title sort of gave the ending away… 😉


  3. Budd says:

    Great story- I see a Vitamin Epiffuny in your future.


  4. Eli's Dad says:

    Really enjoyed this post–excellent job of writing


  5. Ultra'thoner says:

    What a great story!


  6. Excellent story. I really enjoyed this one.


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