Excerpt from “The Dash”

I was one of the youngest kids in my fifth grade class, but except for a girl named Suzanna, I was the tallest. I loved to look at the class pictures. I always stood in the back row. Luckily, I was far enough away from Suzanna that the casual observer couldn’t tell she was taller than I was. My height was a point of pride. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate into athletic ability.

At Peterson Elementary School, athletic ability was measured by the Presidential Physical Fitness Award tests. The patches sewed on my friends’ jackets flaunting their Presidential Physical Fitness Awards were a visible reminder that I wasn’t fast enough or strong enough to earn one. Despite my height, the tests left me feeling very small. It was humiliating to never complete a single pull-up. It was excruciating to hang limply from a pole in front of my classmates. But running the fifty-yard dash on Christiana Avenue was even worse.

After Mr. Kaczmarek, my gym teacher, counted off seventeen cement sidewalk slabs to measure the right distance, the timed sprints would begin. Each time I ran, a puzzled look came over his face as he read the time displayed on his stopwatch. Once he even went back to his office to make sure it was working correctly.

I tried many strategies to overcome my turtle-like sprints. I tried anticipating the starter whistle. I tried leaning closer to the ground at the start. I tried shortening my stride, then lengthening my stride. Nothing worked. Even donning a pair of orange Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star High Tops didn’t help. At the end of the day, all three of my fifty-yard dash attempts were the slowest in the class.

Though I was slow, I still wanted to play sports. When we moved to Minnesota just before eighth grade, I tried out for tight end. I wasn’t quick enough and got cut. I tried out for the cross-country ski team as a high school sophomore. When my coach closed the race shack at a meet before I finished, I got the hint. Reluctantly I gave up on organized sports. I didn’t want people to wonder if I was also slow in the head.

I never told my close friends about the race shack. I never told them I was slow. I had no desire to feel small again. Then Scott suggested we run the front gate at the Minnesota State Fair without paying. He was sure no one would ever catch us. Obviously he had never seen me run the fifty-yard dash.

Continued in 33 Weeks of Ordinary. Click here to order your copy today.