I was a burned out soccer player. I had the choice of playing football or cross country. I knew I wasn't a football player, but I suspected I could run as soccer frequently required it.
I joined cross country and found quickly that the running I did as a soccer player was quite different from the running cross country required. I was used to going full tilt in pursuit of a loose ball or breaking up a play. It was in these moments when I laid it all on the line for a few seconds that I loved soccer most.
This was the only kind of running I knew. But, cross country required running for a few miles, not a few seconds. I labored mightily at each practice logging a few miles.
I'd collapse in my mom's car at the end of each practice. I'd usually fall asleep on the way home exhausted from just trying to stay in contact with my teammates. Maybe I wasn't a runner.
In lieu of any other viable alternatives, I kept showing up. I somehow managed to survive the first few weeks of practice. I wasn't the slowest runner on the team, but I had no illusions I was a ringer.
The season started and simply showing up regularly managed to get me on the varsity squad. But, I had no idea what I was doing when I toed the line. I merely tried to hang with the guy in front of me and not pass out.
September faded into October. I notched the miles and toed the line week after week, but I still wasn't sure if running was for me. There was nothing I could find in cross country that matched the rush I used to feel when I'd score a goal or shut someone down.
Then, everything changed. It was early November. It was a brisk morning. A long season would come to a close in twenty minutes (or less).
The gun fired and masses of young harriers bolted. Once again, I simply tried to stay in contact with the runner in front of me. I was keenly aware of the finality of this effort.
Win, lose, or draw, it was all on the line today. Whether I was meant to be a runner or not, I would spend it all. I would find out what I could do.
The race unfolded no differently from any other race I had participated in that season. I hung on. I hung in.
Two miles felt like an eternity. One more mile seemed staggering. I was running on fumes.
I crested the final hill of the race and made one final turn. Off in the distance, I saw the finish line. A sea of runners was before me.
Something deep inside of me stirred. I was tired, but something inside wanted out. I unleashed a war cry.
A surge of adrenaline coursed through me and I exploded. The gear I had used for so many years to break away and score a goal or stop an attacking striker had been engaged. I was unleashing hell.
Runner after runner was left behind as I put everything I had into my final finish of the season. I knew I couldn't hold this for long, but the finish line kept getting closer. I just had to keep the wheels turning a bit longer.
Gasping, heaving, and laboring, I soared past a few more runners before careening across the finish line. I had discovered my kick. I hadn't scored a goal or shut down an opposing player, but the rush was unmistakable.
From that day forward, my kick would be my secret weapon. I lived to kick. My kick won races. My kick snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Most importantly, my kick made me a runner. I loved running so fast that no one could keep up with me if only for a few seconds. My kick gave me confidence.
More than twenty years later, my kick still keeps me in the hunt. My kick makes me a runner. The surge of adrenaline that washes over me when I floor it keeps me coming back for more.
I run because I love to kick...