Saturday, September 3, 2011

I Had A Dream I Always Had Five Dollars In My Pocket.

When I was a runner it was safe to say I didn't take it all that seriously. Sure, I trained five days a week, and raced on the weekend, but I wasn't all that committed to it. One day in particular I remember calling up my coach and telling her it was raining.

"Uh, no it's not Brendan," she replied.
"Yeah, it's totally raining over here. And I'm way closer to the track than you are."

I should add that we lived in Stawell, and that Stawell's a pretty small town - if it was raining on one person's house, it was raining on everybody's. She must've figured I just wasn't up for it, however, and didn't push the issue. God knows what I was doing - probably talking on the phone to my girlfriend, or watching M*A*S*H with my little brother.

This attitude also spilled over into racing. I don't remember much about the state-level races I did at Olympic Park, but I certain remember the shenanigans. On one trip I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by two good friends, Richie and Nat. Somehow we'd managed, with one other kid, to qualify as a school team for the 4 x 100 relay. It was kind of a big deal, but we were fifteen year old kids with a burgeoning interest in girls and punk rock, so the chances of us treating the event with the respect it deserved were slim. After an hour or so warming up - by rolling down the hills of the Botanical Gardens - we were eventually allowed out on the track to figure out our strategy. I have no idea how we made it this far without figuring any of this out beforehand.

In a 4 x 100 relay you are allowed to put marks on the ground, so you know when to start running, in order to receive the baton without losing too much speed. Most teams use a particular colour chalk, but we only had white. Most teams wrote their school initials in neat letters next to a line on the ground, but we drew a gigantic pair of Nana Mouskouri glasses. Most teams had their runners say the name of the receiving runner as they drew near, but we all agreed to yell the lyrics of some Nirvana song or something.

We didn't win, of course. And no one really cared. But later in the evening I was also running in the 100m, and I won that.

I guess it was kind of a big deal, but no one - and I mean no one - treated it that way. I rocked up to school the next day and wagged Maths class. Richie and Nat didn't turn up at all. My parents were probably proud, but I certainly don't remember being showered with gifts or taken out for a special dinner. I'm pretty sure I wasn't singled out for attention in any way whatsoever.

While these two things may seem kind of unprofessional, and in a way kind of sad - you know, unfulfilled potential and all of that - I don't see it that way. I see it as tacit acknowledgement of two important things. The first is that competing is fun, and athletes who have fun competing will be more successful. But the second is perhaps more important. The lesson that I learned when I returned home triumphant and no one batted an eye is that winning is just something you do. It's not a big deal, not something fantastic, not anything out of the ordinary. It's expected. Not in a pressuring way - as the above conversation with my coach attests, I was never placed under any pressure whatsoever - but rather as a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, "Yeah, that's just what we do."

Yeah. We win. That's just what we do.

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