Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 22:02
I never thought I'd come to love the smell of a sweaty gym bag so much. I also never thought that I would miss it so much.
This weekend I attended the Valentine Invitational track meet at Boston University where even these normally offensive smells made me smile. The rubber track, the sweaty bags, the abnormally dry, warm air in the field house—I love it all. Together, they smell like track.
I walked towards the glass doors of the arena and stopped. There were signs made of simple computer paper and black ink that read: "Athlete entrance only" and "Spectator entrance." The segregation made me feel estranged. These signs that I could have easily torn into dozens of little pieces bullied me into feeling aware of my new circumstance: this was my first time entering the spectator entrance and it felt awful. I wasn't special anymore. The entrance fee applied to me now. I became aware that I was not here to run and compete. I was here to watch others run and compete. I would be standing idly behind the railing, separated again from the world I was once so familiar and in love with, while others who I paid to watch used every ounce of strength and energy they had to move their bodies as fast as they were capable of. I am not an athlete anymore. I have to pay fees to watch them. I am a spectator.
Even if I wanted to sneak through the special entrance, the one "only" for athletes, I wouldn't have made it through. I had jeans on, not incredibly uncomfortable running shorts with the sewn in spandex. I suppose my Ugg Boots were a dead giveaway as well. No sneakers or spikes. Just regular people shoes. Just regular people clothes and hair and regular people physical fitness. I hate being regular; feelings of mediocrity trickled through my bloodstream as my heart pumped—my heart that wasn't beating like crazy as I raced and my blood that didn't feel cold as it swallowed my hot, tired muscles. Remember, I'm a spectator now.
I hated being behind the railing with all of the other spectators. I felt like I blended in with a whole lot of nothing. Gripping on to the metal rail with both hands, I felt like breaking it or leaping over and joining the 400-meter dash. I wondered how fast I would be; most likely not very fast at all anymore. My recorded time would have probably just been average—another regular person trait that I didn't want to have. But I am a spectator now.
The sound of the racing gun struck a chord in me each time it went off. I stood there, watching people run around in circles as fast as they could push themselves. That's all it was, just running around in circles. You didn't have to dribble a ball or catch anything or make it through any hoops or nets. It's just you. You have to push yourself. You have to beat your own times. You have to mentally prepare yourself for the physical challenges. You have to command your feet to turn over again and again, even faster when the cow bell rings and somehow your brain can process at that moment that it's the "last lap." It's all you doing what you mentally and physically can do. It's a great test of your own strength. If you don't succeed, you deal with yourself. If you do succeed, you are proud of yourself. You become so aware of yourself.
I was aware of myself then, but I was not proud. That feeling remained in the past when I was on the other side of the railing. I was aware that my life had moved on from spike-wearing, spandex-fixing, panting, burning, sweating toil. I was aware that my life was now strictly college-going, jean-wearing, writing, reading, late-night toil with the everyday leisure run interwoven in a rigid schedule. I began to think that I did not try hard enough to get better after a seemingly irrecoverable injury.
Yet, I did. In fact, I can't think of another time in my life where I have exerted more effort. If time travel was possible, I would still not go back and change anything. I ran my heart out; I've crossed that finish line years ago. I suppose I've never found this running saying to be more true than right now: "You cannot propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back." Suddenly, I'm struck with faith that my discomfort with mediocrity will soon work to my advantage—to college-going, jean-wearing, writing, reading late-night toil advantage. A new competition has only just begun.