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When I was in high school, I was on the track and field team. Some of my fondest memories from high school happened during track practices and track meets. I absolutely loved feeling the tartan surface of the track underneath my feet as I sprinted down the lanes. I adored how my heart raced as I flew through the air and into a giant pile of sand at the end of the jumping pit. And I still remember counting my steps so that I could glide smoothly over a bar hanging five feet in the air before landing on a giant pillow-like surface. I loved all of these moments of competition, but more than that, I loved getting to see the joy on my friends’ faces as they competed in their events. For me, cheering my friends on in their events was just as important as it was for me to compete in my own events.

One moment that will stay with me forever is one of the 4×400 relays that my friend competed in during our sophomore year. This particular race was special because it was against a school that we usually had no chance of beating. Everyone on this other track team, no matter if they were running or participating in the field events, was really good, but for the first time in a long time, our school actually had a 4×4 team that was pretty good too. The 4×4 was always the last event of the track meet, so everyone who wasn’t participating in the 4×4 was able to actually watch the last event of the day…

The sun had just started to set and a cool breeze danced around the track as my friends and I stood around the edge of the field waiting for the start of the race…

“On your mark,” the official said as the crowd grew quiet. “Set,” he continued as the athletes stilled into their starting positions.

“BANG,” the sound of the gun yelled as the girls took off running.

As we watched the first legs of the two teams go against each other, we realized that they were pretty much neck and neck the entire time. The race continued on, and by the time the first leg of our team handed off the baton to the second leg, we had inched out in front of the other team. With our eyes locked on the race, we watched as our girl increased the gap between her and the girl from the other team. By the time our third leg had gotten the baton, there was so much space between us and the other team that my teammates around me excitedly started to cheer and scream with such ferocity and vigor that you would have thought that our girls were competing for the Olympic gold. My good friend was the final leg for our 4X4 team since she was the fastest, so when our third girl handed the baton off to her we just knew that she would bring home the win for us. As we yelled and cheered for her during the first half of her lap, it seemed like we were on track to win. The girl from the other team was at least 200 meters behind her, and victory was so close we could reach out and touch it, but as my friend pulled around to the last stretch of the race we could tell something was off. She started to slow down, and by the time she hit the last 50 meters of the race she started leaning forward, and the next thing we knew she was falling towards the ground.

In unison, the girls around me gasped as she hit the ground. We stood their holding our breaths as we saw her struggling to get back up. With our encouragement she was able to stand up again, but this time she only moved a few feet before falling back down to the ground once again. Motionless, she laid their in the middle of the track as our coaches rushed forward to check on her. Those of us standing on the sidelines ran as close as we could get to her before our coaches told us to stay back. As we waited there hoping and praying that she was alright, the girl from the other team ran by my friend and straight through to the finish line, taking first place. The race was over, and we had lost, but what my friend did next after the race was over was something that she did not have to do. After she gained her composure back, she stood up and slowly started to limp to the finish line. We could tell she was still in pain with each and every laboring step that she took, but despite this she kept going. She may not have gotten to the end of the race with the same speed that she started it with, but she finished it, and that’s what counted.

My friend could have given up. No one would have blamed her if she had chosen to walk off the track and not finish the race, but she didn’t. She kept going. Sometimes giving up seems like the best option. When it seems like you’ve given your all and you don’t have anymore to give, giving up really does seem very appealing, but you don’t have to give up positive thinker. It doesn’t matter if you stumble. You can still get up and keep going. Limp to the finish line if you have to. Just get up and keep going. In the end, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to finish the race. What does matter is that you can say that you gave it your all when you finally reach that finish line.

Remember…

“If you can’t fly, then run,

If you can’t run, then walk,

If you can’t walk, then crawl,

But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

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