ANN BAILEY: Looking back on track

This month, for the first time in 33 years, I attended a track meet at Larimore (N.D.) High School. The occasion was my son Brendan's participation in the Red River Valley Conference junior high meet held that day. As I sat in the bleachers huddl...

Ann Bailey
Ann Bailey

This month, for the first time in 33 years, I attended a track meet at Larimore (N.D.) High School.

The occasion was my son Brendan's participation in the Red River Valley Conference junior high meet held that day. As I sat in the bleachers huddled up in a blanket against the 49-degree temperatures, mist and wind, I thought about how familiar it all seemed.

Participating in track during North Dakota springs is not for the faint-hearted and I could relate to Brendan and his teammates shivering in the cold, dressed in T-shirts, tank tops and shorts. I can recall meets where the rain was mixed with snow and I kept my sweatpants and sweatshirt on until I stepped out onto the track and put them back on immediately after I finished the race.

If it wasn't raining and cold, it was hot and windy and the dust swirled around us as we ran. Larimore still had a dirt track back then and when it was cultivated and dragged to smooth them out, the dirt blew when the wind did.

The advantage to practicing on a dirt track was that when my teammates and I went to a meet where the track surface was artificial, we usually took quite a bit of time off of our running events. There were, exceptions to that, of course.


Making tracks

One of them was the time that I was running in a relay at the UND field house and was tripped by another runner when I was rounding a corner, toward a straight-away that was under the overhead bleachers. When I stumbled, my glasses fell off. I'm nearly blind without them, so finishing the race glass-less wasn't an option. It took me several seconds to find them because everything was blurry, but I finally did, and got back in the race.

My dad and brother, who had been watching from above, saw me emerge and were relieved to see that I was OK. They had watched me go under the bleachers as part of a pack of runners, but didn't know what happened when the other girls ran out from underneath and I wasn't there. My brother said he thought I might have decided to forget the race and head to Fargo.

I eventually caught up to the pack, but my time reflected the seconds that I had taken to find my glasses.

But my time was even worse during another memorable meet at the UND field house. During that meet, I was running the anchor of a mile relay, which required that I run three laps. The 440 was a race I dreaded because it required running all out for what seemed like a very long distance.

As usual, I was exhausted by the time I hit the finish line and also felt light-headed, so I immediately sat down. I was startled to have a guy standing over me, telling me to get up and keep running. He told me that I had another lap left to run.

I protested, knowing that I had run three laps. However, he insisted that he had counted only two and that our relay team would be disqualified if I didn't run another lap, so I got back on the track and ran another.

By the time I got done, other coaches who had witnessed my first three laps convinced him that I had already completed the race. Our relay's time was adjusted so some seconds were removed, but it wasn't accurate and we didn't place as high as we should have.



Those were a couple of the disappointments that went along with being a part of the track team for six years. I'm sure there were others, but along with them, there also was a lot of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment when the hard work paid off. I also enjoyed the camaraderie of my teammates and being part of relay teams in which we depended on one another for victory.

I think that sports, if looked at with a proper perspective, can teach kids a lot about life; about winning and losing, how to get along with people whom you share nothing in common but the sport and that everything doesn't always go smoothly. Sports also is a good way to teach kids that, whether or not they like the coach, they need to respect him or her and that each of them are responsible for attitudes toward their games, meets or matches. That's a good life lesson, because as all adults can attest to, we likely will have a boss somewhere along the way with whom we don't see eye to eye.

Attending sporting events, such as the track meet in Larimore, as an adult, still can teach me something. At this past meet, for example, it struck me how much Brendan seemed to be enjoying the meet, despite the nasty weather and the knowledge that he would be competing in four events.

The pressure that I put on myself when I had to compete took a lot of the enjoyment out of track. I worried so much about whether I would win that I, literally, made myself sick before, and at, every meet.

Watching Brendan, doing his best, yet also having fun, made me realize how much better my own track career would have been if I hadn't been so hard on myself. It's too late to change that now, but I can do something when other situations arise that I find myself getting worked up about.

Meantime, I'm going to enjoy attending more meets over the years and be sure I keep the blankets handy.

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