Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Relay Disaster

In my last post about my school days, I described my graduation ceremony from my home-school alma mater, Christian Fellowship Academy, and the quirky things that happened to me at the graduation. I also promised to tell you a story about a track meet I attended where I actually entered into the Twilight Zone. Seriously, at this track meet, I was asked by a man with a gun to leave the track…where do I begin?
Life at Christian Fellowship Academy was different from public school.  One of the most noticeable features was a complete absence of organized physical activities.  Even though we never participated together in any athletic events or activities, the school decided we should enter a track event when we gathered to compete with other Christian schools throughout the Great State of Texas, a decision that still makes me scratch my head.  Once a year, we would travel to different locations and compete in various events ranging from singing to track and field.  For the glory and honor of my school, I entered photography, checkers, poetry writing, short story, preaching, choir, and (under much protest) the quarter mile relay. Perhaps I’ll find an opportunity to tell you about these events…more stories of the strange and unusual happened at these proceedings, and are each worth telling. But for now, let’s stick with track.
Track and field activities were the most respectable and dignified events to enter, weighing much heavier than checkers in importance.  All the students and staff gathered to watch their most favored athletes carry on the school traditions and bring great honor to their school’s name.  Excelling in these events was the key to understanding and gaining prominence and prestige among your peers.  No one except your mom really cared if you won a checkers competition.  The big trophy came from the event that now lay before us: track.
I begged our school not to create a track team only three weeks before the competitions.  I was the only student who had ever run on a track or attended a track meet in a competition, and I was horrible at it.  In fact, when my fellow students inquired about the events, I had to explain what a relay was, what hurdles were, and what a high jumper did.  Christian Fellowship Academy had four boys who were eligible for track events.  I was the oldest at seventeen, then Brant at fifteen, John and Jeb both at fourteen. As there were four of us, it made perfect sense to enter a relay.  No one took into account that we had a three-year differential in our ages, and that we would be competing against juniors and seniors, not freshmen and sophomores, like 2/3s our runners were.  No one took into account that we had never run.  In fact, two of the boys had never run further than a lap around a track at any point in their lives.  Never the less, we started training seriously two weeks before the competition.  At least we allowed plenty of time for improvement.
When I tried to explain how a quarter mile relay operated, my fellow runners asked me questions like, “Where will the girls be sitting?” and “Why do those other guy’s shoes have pointy things on them?”  I knew we were in trouble.
Jeb had participated in track in elementary school, so he knew about relays and how to hand off the baton. I used Jeb to show the boys how to pace each other and accomplish a smooth handoff.  As we didn’t have a baton, I used a stick from a dogwood tree.  I placed John in the first leg, Brant in the second, Jeb in the third, and I was the last leg.  I showed John how to start and then told him to run as fast as he could to Brant, do the hand off, and then get off the track.  On our first day of practice, John grinned and said, “At least I know how to get off the track!”  As a team we didn’t perform any better. How could we? You can’t master a sport in one practice session. I do remember that we laughed a lot, and we knew better than to take ourselves too seriously. Hopefully, Jeb and I had enough experience to make up the difference.  We practiced a couple of times over the nest two weeks, but we simply didn’t have enough time to get the principles down.
On the day of the race, I sat the boys down and made them watch the other runners as they raced.  However, they were only interested in the cheerleaders, something I wished to do as well, but I was distracted by an overwhelming sense of doom.  I openly desired to be sitting under the bleachers sucking on a goose egg rather than preparing for the inevitable.  The relay race started and I had to join my teammates on the field.  Like a general before a major campaign who has run out of bullets, I quietly surveyed the battleground that lay before me.  After calculating the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, I knew without doubt that we would be humiliated beyond measure.  If only I knew to what degree… 
First, I took note of the other track teams.  They were warming up together, while my team was poking each other with the baton.  The other teams were dressed in shorts, tank tops, ankle high socks, and cleated running shoes.  My team wore sweat pants and hooded tops, tube socks, and high-top tennis shoes.  Yet, John and Brant both managed to wear the same color socks!  I watched as Jeb explained, as they were poking each other with the baton, that we wouldn’t really run with a dogwood stick.  I smiled when John held up the baton and pretended it was a bugle.   
Finally, the judges called for us to take our starting positions.  Somehow, I had never mentioned to John that the runners would be staggered along the track.  When he saw the other teams lining up ahead of him, he tried to tell the starting official that they were cheating.  I’m not sure he ever understood the explanation, but he lined up in the first lane and complied with the orders.  Despite my efforts to anticipate every detail, I also failed to mention to John that the race would start with a pistol shot.  It startled him so badly that he dropped to baton and looked over at me while the other runners were going around the corner.  Recovering quickly, he picked up the baton and started running.  Brant forgot that he was supposed to lead off before receiving the baton, and stood like a statue until John ran to a stop and handed off to Brant.  Brant started his quarter lap sprint, but the other teams had already passed Jeb and were close to my position. I had to step off the track so I wouldn’t get run over.  As Brant approached Jeb’s position, Jeb led off a picture perfect lead, but Brant forgot about the lead and started shouting to Jeb that he forgot the baton.  Jeb had to go back for it.  By this time, I watched as the racers rounded my corner and crossed the finish line.  Their race was complete; ours was only half begun.  Jeb and I executed our parts with precision, but by the time I crossed the finish line, I had to go around the hurdles they were already placing in my lane. The man with the starting pistol glanced at me curiously and asked me to clear the field so he could start the next race.  All told, we ended up with a time just short of two minutes.  I can still hear the stadium chuckling as they watched us limp off the field.  I will long remember that day. And today, the memory is fun, but at that time, I would have actually collapsed and expired if it were possible to die from embarrassment. I do pray that John, Brant, and Jeb find the same humor in this story as do I. Why not laugh about it? It’s hilarious!

What we thought we looked like

What we actually looked like


1 comment:

Ann Ellison said...

You certainly know how to tell a story that makes me laugh.