A coworker of mine has a sign hanging in her cube that reads “I’m so far behind I thought I was first.” I like it. It’s funny in a dorky way. On the downside, it occasionally makes me remember a less than enjoyable experience … my track “career.”
In the 7th and 8th grades my middle school had track and cross country teams. I ran both. For cross country I think I could say with a small amount of confidence that I was one of the fastest slow kids. If you split us up into two groups, fast and slow, I’d be a pretty competitive slow guy.
The cross country coach was also one of the track coaches, so when spring rolled around he decided I should do the 400 meter. It was a choice based on … I don’t know what. I was and am awful at sprinting. I suppose he thought it was a sort of mercy rule – let the kid run for a shorter amount of time so that his agony of defeat is quick.
In the 8th grade the coach decided I should do the 1,500 meters. That’s just shy of a mile. On the plus side – I’m better at longer distances. On the minus side … the agony of defeat could take a while.
I had a bad habit of not paying enough attention to the race itself. In cross country this didn’t matter because you were out in the woods or some fields and you were just going along. For track the very first meet of my 8th grade year I didn’t pay attention and it didn’t work out so well.
The 1,500 meter race is basically 4 laps around the track. Everyone started and we were bunched together. Pretty quickly the pack was separating based on skill. In other words, I was drifting to the back. I had one or two people behind me which I was ok with. I hadn’t expected to win, I just didn’t want to get last.
I settled in and was pushing myself a bit, and my mind went to a blank place. Bad idea.
On the fourth lap I was rounding a turn when some dad yelled out to me, supportively, “come on, tiger!” Come on TIGER? I thought. The heck is that? It was so … supportive and … wait, full of pity? Pity? WHAT? I took a look around and saw that I was in last place. This is an embarrassing thing to have happen. To be in last and not even KNOW you’re in last? Not impressive.
So, while my co-worker’s sign is not exactly accurate, I wasn’t delusional and thought I was in first, I really didn’t know I was in last.
In the end I finished that and only that race in last place. The pity cheer, that tone, was the exact thing I needed to motivate me to never finish last. I wasn’t good, I didn’t try hard enough at practices, but I was good enough to not be last.