The race was between Leroy and Oliver. Everyone knew that. It was a foregone conclusion that the victory would go to one of them.
Being one of the runners in the race, this conclusion bothered me. I don’t like being a foregone conclusion.
I could never understand why I ran the football so well but struggled on the track. With the exception of Hokes Bluff’s Tim Hunt, I was never caught from behind. Tim was one fast Hokes Bluffian. His tackle tarnished my legacy among my teammates, but I digress.
Like any athlete, I wanted to fix what was wrong. I looked for answers.
Leroy was my best friend. He was speed personified.
A former Negro League baseball player was asked about steroids use during his playing days. he replied, “Yeah, we were on steroids. Turnip greens, pinto beans, and chicken.”
In other words, country cooking. Leroy was on the same steroid.
Since I couldn’t copy his diet – Burger King didn’t serve that on their menu – I decided to try and copy Leroy’s running style. Physically, we were different. I was tall and he was short. I took long strides as I ran and he took short choppy steps. When I tried to run like Leroy, I lost miserably. I vowed never to make that mistake again. If I was going to lose I was going to lose being myself.
I had a talk with myself prior to the race, and it went something like this:
“Self, you can run a football so you should be able to run this race. Look around. (I did as asked.) Tim Hunt isn’t here. Just get into the starting blocks and mentally pretend you are in the backfield preparing to run the football.”
That was my mindset when the announcement was made for the runners to report to the track. I closed my eyes, lowered my head and transported myself into the backfield getting ready to run the football at Murphree Stadium.
“Runners to your mark.” I placed my fingertips on the line.
“Get ready.” I rose from my knees to a set position. Muscles tensed and ready to uncoil.
“Get set.” Mentally I convinced myself that the announcer was the quarterback barking out the signals and snap count.
Boom! The fired starting gun was my cue to hit the line of scrimmage. I took off low and hard, digging my way through the first few hard yards. I kept my head down, deciding instead to focus on getting out of the blocks.
A funny thing happened on my way to the finish line.
When I got the courage to finally look up to see just how far Leroy and Oliver were in front of me, I was shocked to discover I was in first place. There was no one or nothing ahead of me but the finish line.
This was a first for me. I was about to out-run the fastest guys in the stadium. My little conversation with myself was working beyond my wildest expectations. I wondered why I had never thought of it before.
I decided to have a glance backward to see just where Leroy and Oliver were.
As if we choreographed, Leroy and Oliver bent their heads forward and broke the tape. Apparently during my talk I failed to race.
Whenever I think of that day, I reminded of two important things. The first is to be myself. Run my race with the tools and abilities that God has given me. Second, “Once you set your hands to the plow, don’t look back.” Victory cannot be secured that way.