My stomach has ceased its flip-flopping, at least for now. Staring down the curve ahead, I close my eyes, inhale deeply and listen for the starter.
“Runners, on your mark…”
I carry out my starting-line routine. Always three tuck jumps. Always right foot first. And always last to be ready.
The starter pauses, perhaps trying to catch someone flinching or to test our balance. Adrenaline courses through me. My thumb and forefinger ache, but I don’t falter. I stare unwavering at the track below me, poised for takeoff.
I push hard out of the blocks as I’ve been trained to do. At this, point it’s not a conscious decision but a natural reaction. Down the track I sprint, faster and faster. At top speed, I feel like I’m flying. With five meters left, I prepare to lean in for the finish.
Staggering around the infield, I revel in the sprinter’s high, the same one that reeled me in eight years ago.
I got my first taste of track in middle school. As an eighth grader, I broke a school record and helped the team win a Sectional Championship. Much like Ricky Bobby, I wanted to go fast, and those victories sparked something within me. I was hooked on winning and wanted more.
Through my years playing hockey, soccer and running track, I racked up countless championships and awards: sectionals, states, conference and one national. I reached the most success on the track, and that became my identity in college.
I was a track star. I was a student-athlete balancing midday practices with a full course load. I was staving off anxiety long enough to finish a story or a meet, breaking down only when I couldn’t bear the pressure. Often I couldn’t even find time to rehab my injuries, which ultimately led to the end of my career.
I don’t regret it. All the workouts, ice baths and anxiety-riddled races. Track was my life. It’s still part of me, except now I’m just a student. In four weeks, I’ll be a graduate. I had found myself, but I’m lost once more.
I miss my track family ,who understand and appreciate my quirks. After all, they are well aware of their own. I firmly believe that any person who chooses to run for sport is wonderfully strange in his or her own way. That’s the beauty of track and field. The sport brings special people together.
Days from graduation, I float around. My life revolved around being a student-athlete so much that I don’t know how to be a student. I don’t fit in as a journalist. My old teammates are too busy with practice. My best friend is a four-hour drive away. I focus on my classes to distract from my identity crisis.
Trying to find myself is a battle I’ve fought before. This time, however, I don’t know how to fix it. No longer do sports guide me through life. I chose the University of Vermont and then Plattsburgh State because of track. I denied an athletic scholarship at UVM so that I could also play youth hockey. I arranged my courses around practice. Without athletics, I’m on my own.
I’ve tried on different identities, but none elicit the passion I had and still have for being an athlete. I dread the question most asked of graduating seniors: What are you doing after graduation? My initial reaction is to yell “I don’t know” and run away, but that’s not socially acceptable.
The reality is I don’t know who I am, so how could I know what I want to do with myself?
Operation “Who am I?” continues as I rule out what doesn’t fit me. Currently, I reignite my love for reading and chase my new dream of working in the publishing industry. I hope I win this battle; history proves I usually do.
Email Jessica Huber at firstname.lastname@example.org