Most Notable Achievement

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While I'm young to be summarizing my life achievements, my most notable one to date was surviving the 1996 National Junior Olympics. I've been a runner since junior high school and quickly discovered it was my passion. I'm strictly a speed demon, lacking the diversified talents to jump hurdles, throw a shot put or run an obstacle course. My track coach, Mr. Grayson, decided it was better to just let me run, amazed that I did it faster and steadier than the other 12-14 year olds in my school.

Prior to 1996, I had competed only in local and regional track meets. I always did well, either winning or placing second in the 440 and 880 meter runs. I was delighted when my coach announced that I had qualified for the regional finals for the National Junior Olympics. Mr. Grayson beamed when he gave me the news. He had competed in the same events in the 1974 competition and thought it was the highlight of his life.

He always hoped to sponsor a student in the event, but he knew it wasn't likely. With a study body of just 300, the odds of finding a short-distance sprinter were slim. Yet Mr. Grayson and I miraculously found each other.

He helped me train every day after school, offering different training techniques to improve my speed and stamina. I appreciated the one-on-one coaching and really started to want to win. Up until then, I had been so intimidated by the Olympic experience that I didn't dare consider my chances. I faced formidable competition in the race, including a previous national finalist from the previous year. Somehow, though, I suddenly dismissed all of that and started to sense that I could win.

That feeling evaporated three days before the race during an after-school training session. I was completing my warmup exercises on the track and was just starting to accelerate into a slow sprint. Out of nowhere, I suddenly felt a sharp, excrutiating pain in my right shin. I stumbled for a moment in a haze, then suddenly dropped to the ground with my injured right leg unable to support me. The pain was agonizing. I curled up into a ball, trying to massage the leg, but not knowing what had actually happened.

When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by Mr. Grayson and 4 members of the boys track team. They had been practicing their javelin throws, and in a rare moment of goofing off, my classmate Joe haphazardly threw the javelin in the wrong direction. He realized a split second after he threw it that I was running close to him and was in the path of his wild trajectory. It was too late for even a verbal warning. The javelin hit me at warp speed and sliced a quarter inch of flesh from my right shin.

The emergency personnel were wonderful and had my leg stitched in no time. Armed with pain medication, I went home to recover, amid my family's hopeless and half-hearted assurances that there would be another chance next year. Mr Grayson visited and told me the same thing. I knew by his sad face that he didn't mean it. By the time my grandparents called that night, I was convinced that I'd scream if I ever heard it the expression "next year" ever again. I couldn't even imagine next year, or tomorrow for that matter, if I couldn't be in the National Junior Olympics. I fell asleep in a ibuprofin-induced haze.

I got up the next day refusing to accept the verdict. It was only a flesh wound, for God's sake, and I would not be sidelined by it. I WOULD run in that race and it didn't matter if I won, placed, or crawled across the finish line. It owed it to myself, to Mr Grayson and to my school to show up and do the best I could. That's all anyone expected from me before the accident and that's exactly what I'd give them now. With medical clearance from no one, I began to sprint again that afternoon and prepare for the race. The pain was excruciating, but I worked through it. I had to. My leg was strapped, my pain was severe, but my mind was still focused and determined. My body might not co-operate , but my training techniques and stamina were in top form. I was ready.

I'd love to end this essay by announcing that I won the race and placed in the National Junior Olympics. Unfortunately, that wouldn't be true, and it would diminish the achievement of the talented athletes who won medals. But I competed in that race, finishing it in nearly double my normal time. I didn't come close to winning a medal, but I won the most daunting challenge of my life. I endured an injury at the worse possible moment with grace and maturity. I forgave Joe his reckless javelin throw and didn't blame him for my injury. Accidents happen. I refused to back down from a commitment, even though there would be no glory at the end. I wholeheartedly congratulated the winners that day, acknowledging the unity we share in our love for the sport. Though not a winner in the classic sense, I honestly feel it was my finest hour. As for winning the National Junior Olympics, there's always next year.