It was 23 years ago today — in what seems like another lifetime — that I achieved one of my dreams, but quite frankly the only reason I even remember the date is because it is also my brother’s birthday.
I was a sophomore cross country runner at Frostburg State University, an NCAA Division III school in the western Maryland mountains, and was toeing the line to run what would become one of biggest races of my life at the 1996 national cross country championships.
Before I start in about that day, let me just preface it by saying that any time the race is mentioned my parents are quick to remind that they drove for 13 hours from my hometown to Rock Island, Illinois, to watch a race that was over in 17 minutes. And then, they turned around and drove home.
Having eaten my mom’s famous lucky spaghetti the night before, I felt fresh and ready to run. I was hoping for a top-35 finish, which is All-American status, but wasn’t really certain where I fit in among 183 of the country’s best runners.
The race was on a golf course and like nothing I have ever experienced. When the gun went off, the first half-mile was an all-out stampede of bony elbows and steel spikes to the heels as everyone jockeyed for position.
By the mile mark, a lead pack of about 12 of us had separated from the herd and began pushing the pace. The crowd, which was gathered three deep on both sides of the entire 3.1-mile course, was in-your-face loud and so close we could easily slap high fives.
It was energizing and I fed off of it — breaking out into the lead at the two-mile mark. Watching the screaming fans with contorted faces ahead, who were leaning over the rope in anticipation of us, was awesome. As we ran through, I felt like Moses must have as he was parting the Red Sea.
With less than 500 yards to go, I could feel another runner on my back, but when I attempted to kick it up a notch a sharp metallic pain shot through the outside of my right foot and up my leg.
When she went to pass me, I hung with her for a good 150 yards but didn’t have another gear to go to. Not far from the finish line another racer sprinted me down and I ended up placing third.
What none of the other competitors knew was that enroute to a victory on an exceptionally muddy regional qualifying course in Fredericksburg, Virginia, the week before, I had fractured a bone in my right foot.
In the week leading up to nationals I primarily iced and elevated it. Before the race, it was wrapped tight in a few layers of athletic tape and a prayer. Sure, I knew it was broken before I ran and that I would likely do more damage. Actually, I ended up in a cast for the next two months, but it was worth it to achieve my dream of becoming an All-American, just like my dad — who was on the 1967 Fairmont State national championship football team. I was willing to take that chance and risk my health.
In fact, I’ve found that most of the important “things” in life require sacrifices. When you find love, you risk your heart. For your children you give up your body, checkbook and any foreseeable privacy for the next 18 years. If you want a career, you sacrifice family time.
But then again, these are life experiences that are worth the risks. They define who you are as a person. After all it’s not the trophies or savings account balance that you hold on to — it’s the memories.
Chanda Veno is managing editor of The State Journal. She can be reached at email@example.com.