Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Love is enough: though the world be a-waning,
And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining,
Though the skies be too dark for dim eyes to discover
The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder,
Though the hills be held shadows, and the sea a dark wonder,
And this day draw a veil over all deeds passed over,
Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter:
The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter
These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.
Chapter 17 – Lisa Carries the Hopes of Her Team into the State Tournament
Lisa and her teammates were wearing the blue and gold colors of the Jaguars. She and the runners near her ignored the wind chill and each held an intense look top with a healthy heaping of pre race jitters. Lisa looked around at the first three rows and there was no one else near her sharing the Pirate’s colors. She looked at the runners to her right and then to her left. She saw two Stinson runners’ numbers fourteen and fifteen looking toward her and talking. She recognized them from the narrow path in the wooded area. They were part of the group that blocked the path.
One of the Stinson runners walked toward Lisa. She stopped and said in a soft voice, “You won’t get past us this time, shorty. We’ll own the dam.” Then she walked back to her starting place in the first row.
Lisa’s eyes followed the Stinson runner back to her place on the front row. Focus, focus, give it all you’ve got and then some, she told herself. Lisa turned her attention to the dam. It was a bit over a quarter mile away. She couldn’t let the Stinson runners beat her to the dam, if she did, the Jaguars wouldn’t stand a chance of repeating.
She heard the starter, “Runners, I will give one command, ‘On your marks.” After I give the command, I will sound the air horn. The sound of the air horn will mark the start of the race. A word of caution. Assistant starters are posted for the first one hundred yards. If any runner is knocked down within the first hundred yards I will sound the air horn. That will be the recall signal. You will return to your places and we will repeat the start. Be courteous to your fellow runners. Do your best. On Your Marks.”
The air horn blasted.
Lisa shot out from her starting position in the front row. Lisa and seven other runners were quickly out in front of the swarming hoard of runners. Two of the seven runners in the lead pack were from Stinson. One hundred and fifty yards into the race, Lisa was running neck and neck with the two Stinson runners and a runner from Westover High School. The four pressed forward, trying to reach the narrow pathway across the dam first. With twenty yards to go to the dam, the Westover runner dropped back, leaving Lisa and the two Stinson runners to battle it out for the lead.
Lisa recalled Nicole’s words never look at your competitors, always run your race. She fought the temptation to check out the Stinson runners. She imagined a finished line stretched across the beginning of the narrow footpath across the dam. She surprised the two Stinson runners when she sprinted as if she were heading for the finish line. Lisa hadn’t planned this move, she didn’t even think about it. Her body seemed to be operating on a whole new level, acting instinctively. She left the two Stinson runners behind. Lisa felt a sense of triumph when she was the first runner to reach the dam.
Lisa crossed the dam paying attention to Coach Kappa’s warning that a quick left in the course came up right after the dam. She followed the chalk line and took the left and started on the dirt road around the reservoir. She rounded the far end of the reservoir and ran down the backside, she knew Falcon’s Hill was waiting for her. She wasn’t frightened of Falcon’s Hill, she trained with Nicole and Mia on Mason’s Hill, she was ready. She heard the Stinson runners somewhere behind her. Don’t look back. Don’t look back, you’ll only encourage them.
She recalled Nicole telling her how she could break the spirit of other runners in a race by sprinting up the hills. When Lisa reached Falcon’s Hill, she started sprinting. She didn’t know where she was getting her strength. Falcon’s Hill was a tortuous three-hundred yard hard climb averaging a nine percent gradient. Once at the summit, Falcon’s Hill turned into a steep drop leading to a rolling country road.
When Lisa came off of Falcon’s Hill, she knew she had broken contact with the closest runners. She had no idea how far she was in front. She didn’t think about it. She was in a running groove. Her arms and legs were flowing smoothly, to the casual observer they would thought she was grace in motion, running fast but appearing as if she were running effortlessly. The course now took her through the rolling hills. She dared not slow down. After she came out of the rolling hills and back into the recreational area, she spotted Jane and Debra standing out int he roadway waving frantically her. The were screaming something, she couldn’t tell what they were saying.
As she passed Jane and Debra, Jane hollered, sprint, sprint, you’ve got a twenty-yard lead. Lisa’s adrenaline shot up. She increased her pace to just shy of an all out sprint. As she turned down the hill she saw a crowd of spectators lining the roadway to the finish line.
She heard lots of hollering and screaming, she didn’t know if it was for her or for the people behind her. Then, she spotted her dad and mom.
“Go Lisa, go, it’s not far. Go,” Her dad yelled. Her hollered, “You’re doing great. Almost home.”
For the first time since she sprinted up Falcon’s Hill, Lisa heard footsteps. She couldn’t tell if it was one runner or more than one who was closing in on her.
Reach down Lisa. Reach down. Dig deeper she repeated to her self. Lisa needed to discover an inner reserve of energy within that she hadn’t previously tapped into. Her mind flashed to Nicole running the same course and she saw Nicole running the last stretch. It was a good image for her. She knew other runners had closed the lead she built. She felt their presence just off her back.
Now, now, now, she screamed to herself. Her legs got the message. Lisa pumped her arms, exaggerated her stride and was propelling herself toward the finish line. The crowd around the finish line was shouting. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, she knew it was loud. She could see Coach Kappa waiting just beyond the finish line. Seconds later, Lisa burst across the finish line two strides ahead of the top Stinson runner.
Coach Kappa caught her as she was collapsing to the ground. Lisa was sucking in great gulps of air. She couldn’t move.
Coach Kappa held on to her, “You’re okay. Keep taking deep breaths. You’ll recover in no time.
Lisa’s stomach ached. Her legs felt like rubber bands. She was holding onto Coach Kappa’s arm as if it were a life preserver and she was floundering in the ocean.
“You did good Lisa. You did really good. You won. You won states. You are the first freshman to ever win states,” Coach Kappa said while walking Lisa away from the finish line.
Lisa looked up at Coach Kappa, “I won?”
Coach Kappa, “You won. Let’s go see how the rest of the team finishes.”
All members of the Jaguars varsity were going to states even though only eight would run. The Jaguars were on the team bus at seven a.m. States were held at the Governor Clara Geyser State Park an hour and a half away. The championship race was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Coach Kappa wanted the team to arrive with plenty of time to warm up before the race and talk strategy.
Lisa sat with Marie across the aisle from Mia and Leah. Five miles from the state park, Lisa heard her text ringtone. She pulled it out of her backpack. A text from Nicole.
Good Luck Lisa! I dreamed you ran a great race. Text as soon as you can.
Lisa texted back:
The bus arrived at 9:05 a.m. The parking lot was already filling with school busses and cars. The driver parked the bus near the back edge of the parking lot. Coach Kappa stood up and spoke to the runners.
“Remember, you are the champions. You will be the champions until someone beats you. Do not let anyone intimidate you. If anyone trash talks, ignore it. We’re the champs, we’ve been here before. We know how champions act. Did you see the dam we crossed on the way here?”
The runners nodded.
Coach Kappa said, “The dam is an important part of the race. You’re going to cross the dam and once across the course leaves the main road and veers to the left. Pay attention, it comes fast right after you cross the dam. You’ll run the perimeter of the reservoir before heading toward Falcon’s Hill. Falcon’s Hill looks a lot like Mason’s Hill. I think it’s about twenty yards longer and maybe a degree steeper. Use the hill to your advantage. It can make or break runners in an important race. Once at you get to the bottom of Falcon’s Hill, the course goes for about a mile on a country road through rolling country terrain before returning to the large recreational area below the dam. I am going to have Jane and Debra standing one hundred yards before you begin to enter the recreational area. When you see them, you’ll know that a fifty yard downhill into the recreational area below the dam is coming up. Pick it up, don’t wait. Once your at the bottom of the dam, the course veers sharply left onto the large grassy area. At that point it’s a 300 meter sprint to the finish line. Any questions?”
Mia raised her hand, “Coach, what if we don’t see Jane or Debra?”
Coach Kappa laughed, “Don’t worry, they’ll be calling out your name loud enough to scare the birds out of the trees.”
Coach Kappa said, “One more point, I need to mention about the dam. recall last week when the Stinson runners blocked Lisa on the path through the woods?”
Lisa answered, “I do, Coach.” The girls all laughed.
“They’ll probably do the same here,” Coach Kappa said. “If we’re to win states you’ll have to beat the Stinson runners to the dam. Their strategy will be to sprint out with their runners. The six through ten runners will try to block the dam so the faster runners can get a big lead on the field. They qualified as many runners as we did. We were fortunate to edge them out in regionals. I know it’s unfair and I spoke to the state committee during the week. They told me if your team doesn’t like it tell them to get to the dam first. That’s what we’ll have to do. If any of you get to the dam first. I don’t want any blocking, run your race, and concentrate on finishing as high as you can. Got it?”
The team responded together, “Got it Coach.”
Twenty minutes later, the numbers were randomly selected and posted for the three-hundred runners who qualified from across the state. Lisa tried to jump up over the tall runners in front of her who were looking for their names and the number posted next to them. Being as small as she was, she was one of the last runners to find her name. Instinctively, she started looking at the numbers at the backend, beginning with three-hundred. When she reached one hundred-fifty, a little smile crossed her face, she’d be in the front half of the pack. Still she hadn’t seen her name. It was Mia Hale who patted her on the back, “Lisa, you pulled number four. The rest of us are three rows back. You got to go out strong. You can win this thing if I don’t break through.”
Lisa felt her heart thumping like a huge bass drum. She didn’t look at Mia. Instead she looked at her shoes, nodded and went to the registration table to get her number.
Moments later Coach Kappa called the team together one last time before the race. She said, “We got the draw we got. Focus on the race, not the draw. Mia and Marie are back a bit. Lisa, you’re going to have to run the race of your life if we’re to have a chance at five state championships in a row.” She paused for a moment, “We know the Stinson strategy. I don’t think it will change since the regionals. They’ll probably try to get to the dam first and block other runners from passing while their best runners build a big lead. We’re running two races. The first race is to get to the dam ahead of the Stinson runners. The second race is from the dam to the finish line. It’s the last race of the season. Don’t hold back. Give it all you got. Okay, let’s go!”
As soon as Lisa boarded, the bus, she took out her iPhone. She planned to text Nicole, then her parents. She started typing in her text, when Coach Kappa stood up in the front of the bus.
“Listen up. Congratulations on winning the regionals. It was a good win, but it was close, too close. We beat Stinson by four points. A win is a win. We’ll have to do better if we’re going to repeat at states. Rest up tonight and tomorrow. We’re going to work hard Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Then, we’ll taper down on Thursday and a rest day Friday. I know you’ll run hard, you always do and I’m proud of you. But, this time, you’ll have to run smart. Lisa got boxed in by the Stinson runners.”
“It wasn’t fair, Coach,” said Marie.
“It’s all part of racing strategy, I agree it wasn’t fair to do it on purpose, but they got away with it. We don’t run like that and we never will. The thing to remember, when things like that happen, be smart, don’t foul, don’t get disqualified and figure out, like Lisa did, how to outsmart them. Thank you for giving it you’ve got. I’m proud of you.”
Coach Kappa sat down in the seat behind the bus driver. The bus driver closed the bus door, and asked for a show of hands of who was buckled. All the girls raised their hands. A moment later, the bus was headed back to Nickerson.
Lisa was still holding her iPhone. She completed her text message to Nicole.
Coach Kappa’s pushing hard for states. We barely won the regionals. I got boxed in by runners from Stinson. Coach protested – the judges didn’t do anything. I finished fourth. I could have finished second to Mia if I didn’t get boxed in.
Lisa waited for Nicole’s response. It wasn’t long.
Same thing happened to me Lisa the first time I ran regionals. Glad you kept your cool. It’s the only way. Here’s hoping you get a low number at states. Go out fast. How many Jaguars qualified?
10 of 15. We got our work cut for us if we’re to win.
Lisa watched the bubbles in the lower corner.
It’s only the first 5 team members that count. I’m picking you to finish in the top three at states.
Lisa felt her heart sounded like a heavy bass beat that wouldn’t quit pounding. Uh oh, she thought stress time. I have to be the third best runner at states to make Nicole proud. I’ve got to run better than I did today. I’ve got to prove to Nicole I can do it.
She text Nicole back.
Lisa then texted her mom and dad. They both texted back congratulations and said they’d pick her up at the high school and go out for pizza. When Lisa and her parents came home, the first thing she did was to place the number 3 in the blue and gold colors of the Jaguars on the refrigerator door, inside the refrigerator, on the ceiling above her bed, on the front and back to the door of her room, and even on the bathroom mirror.
The following Monday, Coach Kappa knew her runners were ready. The training schedule this week wasn’t about getting them in better physical shape, it was preparing them mentally and building their confidence. Monday’s workout was an easy five mile run. Coach gave them the pace she wanted them to maintain. She called out the times every half mile making sure the runners kept it at an easy pace. When the runners returned to the Nickerson High School athletic fields, Coach Kappa had them run six one-hundred meters strides. On Tuesday, Coach Kappa had the runners warm up with an easy two mile run followed by running the Nickerson course at race pace. Mia, Marie, and Lisa were bunched together at the finish in that order. On Wednesday, it was an easy five mile day. And, Friday was the off day.
Late Friday afternoon, Lisa and her dad were sitting in the living room. Her mom was making dinner. Her dad said, “How are you feeling Lisa? Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“Okay, I guess,” said Lisa looking at her iPad.
“You’re really focused. Wherever you finish, it’s okay. Mom and I know you’ll give it your best. That’s all anybody can do,” Lisa’s dad rubbed her shoulder.
Lisa pointed to the block three hanging with scotch tape from the bottom of a framed photo on the wall of Nicole and she standing near the edge of northern rim to the Grand Canyon. It was taken on the family vacation two years ago. She said, “That’s my goal, dad.”
“It’s a good goal. Remember, it’s only a goal. You might exceed it. You might not reach it. Whatever the outcome, you’ll feel good if you knew you gave it your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.”
“Thanks, Dad,” said Lisa. Then she thought, Nicole expects me to be number three in the states.
Lisa and her dad heard her mom call, “Dinner’s on. Coach Kappa’s special menu for our runner.”
Lisa and her dad walked to the dining room, Lisa’s dad patted Lisa on the back, “It’s a race. You’ve trained hard. Give it your best. Nicole will be proud of you no matter where you finish.”
Lisa thought, only if I finish third.