My mother, after I won a blue ribbon at Brockett Elementary's Field Day mile run event, decided to sign me up for the Atlanta Coca~Cola's Children's Road Race. The race was a month away and my mom began my training regimen. After school, I had to complete three laps around my block. Neither of us were sure of the distance, but she guesstimated it was close to a mile. She'd time me every day, sometimes standing on the front lawn with a stop watch, sometimes she'd glance at the stove clock and guesstimate that I was slower that time.
On race day, as she drove me down interstate 85 toward Peachtree Road, my mother had one piece of coaching advice: "Stay in third place. Then, in the last stretch, make a break for it." I stored her advice in a bubble in my chest. The bubble swelled under her tutelage. She believed in me. I believed in me. I just knew I was going to win.
We exited the freeway and followed signs to parking, driving slowly past crowds of pedestrians in running attire. We were flagged into a crammed parking lot by men in t-shirts and sandals, smocked in bright orange vests. "You'll need to hurry," they shouted as we got out of the car. "They are about to start.
Mom and I scurried to the sign in table. I pulled on my Real Coke shirt and Mom quickly pinned on my race number. We could see the starting line banner a few blocks up and began pushing through the crowd. About a block from the starting line, we heard a gun shot and the crowd around us jolted into a collective stampede. I was in the race. My mom was in the race. We were jostled around until we crossed the starting line and I, apparently was in third place. Third from last place, that is. All clad in red t-shirts, we swarmed down the street and I was simply one among thousands.
My dreams of breaking the finish-line tape floated away. The bubble inside my chest didn't pop, but simply deflated to a soapy film. Oh well, I thought, at least I got this cool t-shirt. My life as a track star was over. My mother retired her position as coach as well. We never mentioned the race again and when I went to high school, I tried out for drill team. Mom didn't attempt to give me any pointers. I was on my own. And I was okay with that.