“Why are you stopping?” Ana asks as I shake her off my back.
“Because …. I can’t … breath,” I manage to huff out. I drop to the grassy patch alongside the track. I take deep breaths in and out, in and out. “What’s my time?”
“No where near where you need to be,” Ana says. She’s standing beside me. Normally she’s a few inches shorter than me, but from my position, she seems to tower above. “Get up,” she says with just a hint of annoyance.
“I can’t do this,” I say looking up to meet her judgmental gaze. Her pale face is blocked out by the midday sun. I’m glad I can’t see her face – I have a list of people I’ve let down, and I can’t bear to add Ana to that already long list. But my heart is beating at an alarming rate, I can’t seem to catch my breath, and blisters are forming on top of blisters. “Seriously, I give up. Just leave me here to die.”
“Destiny Marie Augustine, you get your ass up right this instant! You are not a quitter, you hear me?!” she barks. I hold my hand out to her in the hopes that she’ll take mercy on me and at least help me off the ground. She helps me up, and before I know it I find myself once again hoisting her up and on my back.
“Ready,” I ask.
“Ready ….. set…. GO!” Ana shouts in my ear. My feet hit the spongy blue track. At first all I can think about is how tired I am and how heavy Ana is. But as I continue to run, I remember just how much I want this. No, not want – need this.
I always thought that breaking a world record would be cool,, but never cool enough to actually go through with it. But after finding out the local news is holding a contest where one local record setter would win a whopping five thousand dollars. This is it, my one big opportunity. As much as I want the money for myself, I can’t afford to be that selfish.
When dad took off, he took his bank account with him. We weren’t rich then by any means, but we were comfortable. – a solid roof over our heads, a balanced meal, even if they were frozen, and new clothes every school year. No, me, mom, and my younger brother are so close to the poverty line it actually hurts. Mom takes as many odd jobs as she can, but the money she scrapes up is barely enough to cover a full month’s rent of our rickety old trailer. I bus tables at the greasy spoon, and use my free meal to feed three people. And even little Leo has a daily bus route. Every penny helps, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough.
That is why I have to win this contest. That five thousand dollars will really help me and my family. Maybe even start a small college fund for Leo.
The paper set strict rules for the contest. Participants can’t just set out to break any old record. Participants have to break the record for the fastest mile run. But here’s the catch, they have to set the record to the fast piggy back mile run.
The original record was set by two dudes in the United Kingdom. In order to beat these dudes my time had to beat their eleven minutes and eleven second record. While I want this more than anything else I have ever wanted, I am not aiming high. I’m setting out to shave that eleven seconds off, and run the full mile with Ana piggy back in eleven minutes flat.
This is why I now find myself with my one hundred and fifteen pound friend strapped to my back. As I round the bend, I realize that I am essentially carrying my own body weight.
The finish line is sight. I push myself harder than I ever have before. I cross the line and drop Ana on the ground.
“Eleven minutes and fifteen seconds. Almost there! Come on, let’s go around one more time.”
I shoot her the severest look I can manage. “I can’t. Work,” is all I manage to huff out. She doesn’t argue, she knows I can’t afford to call out or even go in a minute late. Sergio, my boss, will dock me if I’m late. Or at least he threatens to. “I still have to shower.”
“You have an hour,” she says stubbornly. I know she means well, and that she wants this for me just as much as I want this for myself. But Ana just doesn’t get it. She doesn’t fully get how tough it truly is. She doesn’t know what it’s line to eat only one meal a day, or what its like to have to wear her hand me downs. Or to worry constantly if there will be a home to go home to at the end of the day. “So, you’re just…”
I cut her off. “No, I’m not giving up. I’m just putting this on pause for the day. We’ll be back out here tomorrow morning.”
She doesn’t respond but I see her resignation. “Come on, I buy you a drink at the water fountain,” I say with a laugh. She slings her arm around my shoulder and we walk to the fountain.
“You can do this, you know?”
“Can I?” I ask sheepishly. As much as I want this, I don’t necessarily believe that I can actually win this. Good things like this don’t happen to people like me. “I want to believe that I can.”
“Than believe it babe! You got this!” Even though I don’t love drill sergeant Ana, I do love how supportive she is and always has been. And it’s the reason why she pushes me so hard. “The contest is next week, are you nervous?”
“No, not nervous. Maybe anxious?”
“Because there’s so much riding this. That money is practically spent already.”
“But how can you be so sure?”
“Because I know you. And I know what you’re capable of, even if you don’t.”
“Thanks!” Her vote of confidence helps me believe that I can and will actually do this.
“Contestants! To your marks!”
“You ready?” I ask Ana.
“The real question is are you ready?”
“Yeah, I am,” I respond. And it’s in that moment that I realize that it’s true. I have worked hard, and in this past week I have pushed myself to every limit. I have shaved seconds off my time. I just hope it’s enough.
I look at the people scattered around the track. There are people from the newspaper, looking very official with ties and little notebooks in hand. There are the world record’s people, also very official looking with fancy clipboards. There are people I know, like Nathan Snow, captain of my high school’s track team, and his head cheerleader girlfriend, Marsha Taylor. And there are people I don’t know, but they all look very athletic.
I scan the bleachers in the hopes of that maybe, just maybe, mom would be here to cheer me on. I spot Sergio and Loraine – they are holding a sign that says “Go Destiny!” . Seeing my boss and my favorite coworker and that ridiculous sign brings a smile to my face. A row over I spot Leo sitting with Ana’s family. They wave frantically at me. Leo gives me two thumbs up.
“Let’s get the show on the road,” I say looking at Ana.
“Lead the way, champ!”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I say taking my place on the track.
“Listen,” Ana starts, spinning me around. “No matter what happens, whether or not you win that money. I want you to know that I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks. You know, I couldn’t do this without you, right?”
“Don’t get all sappy on me now! You have a record to set, and I have to see that you do.”
“On your mark. Get ready. Go!” the emcee booms into a microphone. I take off, slow and steady making sure my breath and my heart rate are even. As I find my footing I pick up speed.
I’m about half way around and I realize that it’s just me and Anna and Nathan and Marsha. When I first start this, I made a strict rule that Ana and I would not talk in the midst of running. I need to focus everything to the task at hand. But I break my rule.
“Where … is everyone?” I breath out. I can feel Ana crane around to scope out the scene.
“It looks like some dropped out already. Heh, losers!” she says gleefully.
“And the rest?”
“Slow pokes. It’s just you and Nathan.”
Knowing this only makes me want to run faster, harder. Nathan is on okay guy I guess. I’ve never had any problems with him. In all honesty, he’s an all around nice guy. But right now, he’s my competition. And he’s only doing this for the glory. If we could share the prize I’d give him the glory and take the cash.
“I know we promised not to talk, but Marsha is starting to whine about how uncomfortable she is. You got this Destiny! You’re going to win!”
I run and run for what seems like hours. But before I know it the one mile mark is within reach. Nathan and I are neck and neck … almost. I turn my head just enough to see Marsha squirming and that Nathan’s is having a difficult time keeping his stride. But he’s an athlete, competition runs in his blood. I know he’s not going to give up, not without a fight.
I bate him by letting up a little, letting him think that I’m just so tired I can’t keep up my pace. He takes the bait with a sly smile – one that says ‘I got this’. But just as he’s thinking that this record-setting is his for the taking, I push myself just a bit harder, close the gap and before I know it, I cross the finish line … first!
I’m so elated and exhausted that I don’t even think about my time. I let Ana down and within a split second she’s jumping, hooting, and hollering. Once again her arms are around my neck. But this time she’s hugging me, and a bit too tightly admittedly.
“Did I win?”
“You came in at ten minutes and fifty-eight seconds! You won!”