I attended Rolling Hills Elementary School, situated in a quiet suburb of north Fullerton.
The school event that I looked forward to with the most anticipation and anxiety was the annual track meet. Around third grade, I had discovered that, while I was small and not nearly as good an athlete as my older brother, I was a fantastic runner.
In elementary school, running is a sport that you can excel at, not by inborn gifts, but by sheer force of will. And I was all will. I could pinpoint my gaze on the finish line and run with unflagging intensity.
When I reached the "upper grades" I was allowed to participate in the track meet. Unlike most students, who probably viewed the track meet as a nice break from class, I actually trained for it.
I spent my recesses organizing races among my friends. I always won. I watched the movie Chariots of Fire almost religiously. I went on evening runs with my dad, who I had employed as my trainer. I participated in local community races, like the Brea 5k.
When the fated day arrived, I was ready. I warmed up, doing stretching exercises, preparing myself mentally, donning the blue Nike spandex pants and New Balance shoes I'd asked for for Christmas.
The "main event" of the day was the 50 yard dash. My dad stood at the finish line, camera in hand, ready to capture the "photo finish."
"On your marks!" Mrs Goltz (my teacher) said.
"Get set!" Butterflies. Cramping. Fight through it.
We were off in a blaze of pre-pubescent glory. I ran with all my might, pushed with everything I had…
…and tied Jimmy Klienfeldt for the win.
As I crossed the finish line, I burst into tears. I did not run to tie. I ran to win. My father hugged me as I wept, unashamed to be weeping in front of my confused classmates.
Jimmy and I had tied. We had also broken the school record. I shook his hand, wiping my eyes. I wanted a look at my dad's photo finish shot, to see who was the real winner.
When the picture was developed, it confirmed the tie. It was also strange to see myself, frozen in time. My face expressed agony and ecstasy. I was usually a pretty quiet, shy kid. But that moment, captured on film, showed me that there were emotional depths to myself I had only begun to glimpse, that might not actually have to do with running.
For a class art project, I made my dad a picture frame out of macaroni and sea shells. He put the photo finish picture in it, and displayed it proudly on his desk at work for many years.