The Greatest Race

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Let me set the scene. I was in 6th grade. It was the 60s and we were at the height of JFK’s Presidential Physical Fitness Program. My elementary school, acting in accordance with federal mandates, held a school-wide assembly patterned after a mini-olympics.

There were contests of physical strength, competitions involving stamina or endurance, and, of course, the premiere event – the 100 yard dash to determine who would be named the fastest student in the school.

I won my first heat and moved into the second round. I won that one as well (easily if I recall correctly). I moved into the final heat and quickly outpaced the others to be named the fastest boy at Brookhaven Elementary. I was congratulated by none less than the principal himself. It was only then that I learned I was not yet finished. Without regard to the potential humiliation at stake, the principal informed me that in order for them to determine the fastest student, I would have to race the girl champion. Mano a Femano. (sic)

My male peers gathered round me, not to provide encouragement… we were in 6th grade after all… they just wanted to make sure I knew that if i lost to a girl they would never let me live it down.

I glanced at my competitor. She was a speed demon in pigtails with a look of determination I’ve never seen replicated since. To make matters worse, this was the highlight event of the day. All the other competitions stopped and the entire school body: students, teachers, parents, and administrators turned out to watch this one race between two youngsters. Me against a girl, who in all honesty, was probably faster than I was.

I would like to say that I called upon an inner strength or found a Chariots of Fire-like faith but the reality is I was too afraid to lose. I did not want to subject myself to the shame and embarrassment of coming in second in a two person race – losing to a girl. I ran faster than I had ever run in my life. And I prevailed. But when I crossed the finish line a step ahead of little Missy, I could sense the disappointment from the crowd. After all, I was a boy – I was expected to win. Little did they know that it could have gone either way.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

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