Here is a true story that I wrote recently. It is the most clear and painful memory that I have of Bronco Stadium. I have changed the names of the people, but not of the schools or anything like that. Enjoy your read...
"SECOND CALL, MENS 2A 3200 METER RUN. REPEAT. SECOND CALL, MENS 2A 3200 METER RUN." I smiled at the sound that came over the loudspeaker. That was me, along with 16 others. Seventeen of us had earned the right to run in this race. Hundreds of runners across the state had put themselves through torture to compete in the two mile race for various reasons. Only seventeen had made it to state, and we were being called. The time to put it all on the line had drawn near.
I continued my walk towards the sign-in tent. I was nervous, but not as nervous as I had been almost exactly a year ago. It made more sense to be nervous now than it did back then, though. A year ago, I had accomplished my goal before the race began. My goal had been to make it to the race, to qualify for state. I didn't care how I placed. I just wanted to be there. It had been hard. They only took two from the district to make it to state. All season, in every meet, I had been the third one from our district to finish the race. There was my teammate, John, and that dang blonde haired kid from Wendell High School. They beat me every single time my junior year. That is, until the district championship. I was determined not to let that stop me from trying my best at districts. I had run the entire race right behind the two of them, right in third where everyone expected me to finish. I saved up some of my energy and ran with all my might for the last two hundred meters. The whole time, I had seen John right in front of me, and knew that the kid from Wendell High School had to be right there with us. We crossed the finish line, and I had checked to see if I had finished in second or third place. The blue and yellow Wendell jersey was a good 50 meters behind me. I had looked at John and he had said, "Hey man, we get to go to state together." That had been enough. I had made it. One year after not being able to join the team because of an ankle injury, I had made it. Coming in dead last in the state championship as a junior had not bothered me at all. I had run in the race.
Now, however, I was a senior. I remembered that as I recited my name, school, and year to the meet official. I looked at the list that she had in her hands. There were a lot of seniors in this race. Many of them had run at state before. All of us were on our last two mile race as high school athletes. All of us had lofty goals. And, even more importantly, none of us would accept anything less than our own personal best. I smiled as I began stretching out my calf muscles. That was why this race would be so much fun. I had never run in a race with as many emotions as I was sure to encounter here. It was everything that I had dreamed of.
The rest of the runners had already checked in by the time that they made the third and final call over the loudspeakers. I looked around at what was shortly to become my competition. Supposedly, these were the 17 best distance runners in Idaho's 2A school classification. There were only a couple of kids that I didn't recognize. I remembered them from the program I had in the stands. They were both sophomores from the panhandle. The times that had qualified them for state were impressive for sophomores, but their youth and inexperience was readily visible on their faces. They would be good runners in a couple of years, and this experience was going to help them get there. However, they didn't fully appreciate the situation they were in. Yes they were good, but not good enough to match the experience and determination of the juniors and seniors that were there.
My eye was drawn to a flash of orange to my right. I looked over at an ironically comical sight. There was Bill Wilson from Malad High School. Whenever I had raced against him, I had never been able to entirely suppress the laughter that came from seeing how well his hair blended with his bright orange Malad Dragon Jersey. However, at the finish of every race, there was no laughter about him. I was simply in awe when I looked at the official result and saw his time. He always finished first. Always. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that this was the runner who would win the race, our state champion. While the rest of us were trying to improve on our personal best times, he was wondering if he would be able to break the records from his school, our classification, and even the state of Idaho. He truly was the king of the two mile race.
I heard a starting gun to mark the official start of a race and I looked over. The 3A girls were done, and the 3A boys were starting their two mile state championship. As I watched the runners spring into motion, I noticed another familiar face walk up to the sign-in tent. It was Tom Allen, a friend of mine from Hagerman High School. We had become friends by competing against each other. He was here for the 1A race. We had not raced against each other too many times, but the times that we had were usually memorable, especially one race in that particular season. I smiled as I remembered the fulfillment of my first of three goals.
It had been a day of changing weather about halfway through the season. I remember helping my coaches set up and watching busses from other schools pull up. Only once a year did I get to participate in hosting a meet. My school had named the annual invitational track meet after one of the most revered coaches in Valley High School's history- The Monte Andrus Memorial Invitational. There was a certain amount of pride in knowing that. There was also a bit of pride in knowing that here, at this meet, we were defending our home turf, and that it was our only chance all year to do so. Of course, that was figurative. Valley High School did not have a track, so we rented the track from Twin Falls High School to host the meet.
That day, the two mile race had been the second race. During the 2X200m relay, the weather had been nice and sunny. As the girls lined up to start their two 3200 meter run, the clouds began rolling in. As their race progressed, and as I was warming up for my own race, the wind had gotten worse. By the time we were lining up for the boys’ race, the weather was downright miserable. I smiled to myself as we lined up for the waterfall start. I glanced to my right to see the racers that were ranked ahead of me. There were eight of them, and they weren't any happier about the weather than I was. I decided to think positive, and maybe that thinking would reflect in the way that I ran. “At least it’s not raining,” I told myself. As soon as the gun sounded, it was as though the gun had shot a whole in the bottom of the cloud. Less than 20 meters into the race, the hail was steady. So much for positive thinking. At that point, I would have welcomed a rainstorm instead.
Why did there have to be weather like this just in time for the most important race of my season so far? This was the regular season meet that had the best competition for a male distance runner. I had never placed in the top ten in this meet. I had always dreamed of earning a medal, but that would require a spot in the top three. Surely the hailstorm could have picked a better time, maybe a time that it wouldn't be shredding the last bit of the dream that I had left.
At the end of the first lap, I realized something. I was in 9th place. For as much as the hail had slowed me down, it had slowed everyone else down as well. If I could only ignore this storm for seven laps, then just maybe...
I picked up my pace. If I didn't have any energy left at the end, then all the better. I would be able to say that I had left everything that I had on the track. As I focused on the back of the man in 8th place, the stinging of the hailstones hitting my ears seemed to fade. I forced myself to forget the weather, and think about the race. I had caught up to my target and passed him, and I now focused on the next runner. I could hear my coach yelling at me from the infield, but that faded out too as I picked up the pace even a little bit more. I passed a couple more runners, and I still felt good.
When I heard the bell signaling that the leader was beginning his final lap, I was 50 meters behind him. I looked up and counted. There were 4 runners ahead of me. I realized that they all looked tired, so I ran with all of my might. By the time I started my own final lap, I had moved into fourth. Another 100 meters and I was in third, and still going strong. As I rounded the corner heading into the last 200 m, I realized that I was now looking at the back of the black and orange jersey that belonged to Tom Allen, the prized distance running machine of Hagerman High. I sprinted with all of my might for those last 200 meters, but could not quite catch him. As he crossed the finish line just ahead of me, the storm began to show signs of stopping. I had finished second, and therefore earned a silver medal. However, there was one thing that had been even more amazing to me. According to the official results, I had just run the two mile race 9 seconds faster than I had ever run it in my life, while all of the other runners had run far slower than they were capable of.
That had been my turning point. I realized that I could compete with anyone. From then on, I beat my personal best 3200 meter time at every remaining regular season track meet. By the end of the year, I was one of the people that other athletes mentioned when confronted with the question, "Who are the fastest distance runners that will be in this meet?"
Those memories faded as I finished up my stretching. It was now time to move into the infield to complete our warm-up. We crossed the track as a group, and stepped onto the blue turf of the football field at Bronco Stadium at Boise State University. It was the second time that I had ever walked on the turf of my favorite college football team. The first time was almost exactly a year ago.
I smiled again at the different circumstances. Just as a year ago, when I was content to merely run at state, I had also been content with a second place finish a districts to get me there. This year, it was different. The second of my three goals was to be a district champion. This year, I had determined that nothing less than being district champion in the two mile, and a top two finish in the mile as well, would satisfy me. That had not been too difficult. My district was not as strong this year as it had been in years past. In the two mile, I had run just fast enough to win so that I could save my energy for the mile. My time had not been very impressive, but it had not been intended to be. I could now put a check by my second goal, leaving the big one standing alone in the yet-to be accomplished category. Also, using the energy that I had saved from that, I had just barely been able to pull off second place in the mile by less than a half of a second to become a multi-event state track athlete.
My warm-up jogs up and down the blue turf were feeling better than any warm-ups that I had ever done. The 2A girls were just starting to cross the finish line. My two teammates and good friends who were running in that race had competed well. That was good. When Lisa and Megan competed well, I usually did as well. I congratulated them and they wished me luck. My heart began pounding. It always pounded for a few minutes leading up to any race that I competed in. Since this was the biggest race of my life, I was not surprised that my heart was pounding harder than it ever had before a race.
I stepped into my assigned lane and focused on my breathing. This was what I sometimes called "tension time." I could never wait until the starting gun, but I always had to. The announcer began speaking over the loudspeaker to all in attendance at Bronco Stadium. "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! PLEASE TURN YOUR ATTENTION TO THE STARTING LINE FOR THE BOYS 2A 3200 METER STATE FINAL!!!" He then began listing off the runners, their school, and their lane assignments. Every time that he finished with a runner, a small group somewhere in the stadium, always wearing the same colors as the athlete, would cheer. Finally, he got to my name. "IN LANE 3B, A SENIOR FROM VALLEY HIGH SCHOOL, HOME OF THE VIKINGS, BLEEDBLUEORANGE!!!" I made my obligatory wave to the crowd. As a small group dressed in blue and white cheered, I picked out several individual faces. There was Dorothy, one of my best friends who had already finished her throwing events. I also saw Jimmy, the only other guy from Valley to qualify for state. The day before, he had failed to make it to the finals in the 100 meter dash. I knew that I would probably come in dead last in the mile tomorrow, so that meant that this race right here was the only hope that the Valley boys’ team had of scoring points at state. I finish 8th or better, we score. 9th or worse, and we go home without a single point. I didn't really care about that. I wanted higher than 8th place. Then, I saw my family. My dad and mom were there along with my brother, Blake. As long as they were there cheering for me, I knew that I would compete better.
Then the moment that had kept me in suspense came. The official meet manager came to the line, pointed the cap gun in the air, and yelled, "RUNNERS, ON YOUR MARK!" I took a half of a step forward in unison with 16 other runners. "GET SET!" I hunched into a running position with one arm slightly up in front of me. My heart was pounding in my head so loudly that I wondered if I would hear the starting gun. Then, "BANG!!!!" All seventeen of us lunged forward and entered our stride as we fought for inside position. The pounding in my head had stopped as soon as the race began, just like always. I felt my legs settle into a rhythm beneath me, and it was a good one. At the end of the first curve, Bill Wilson had already begun to pull away, with the two sophomores right there with him. I sighed inwardly. They were showing their inexperience. There are not many runners that can run well after starting as fast as Steve Atkinson does. No doubt these two young runners would soon run out of energy and fall towards the back of the pack.
As the first lap progressed, I reflected back on the past few years and the goal that had motivated me through all of it. When I was a freshman, earning a medal in a state championship race seemed impossible. I was simply not made to be a distance runner. A state medal at that point had seemed just as improbable as an Olympic medal. Then, I joined the cross country team as a sophomore. During one practice before our first meet, I had torn ligaments in my right ankle. I was not happy that the doctor had told me not to even try to run on it for at least three weeks. Two weeks later, I decided to try to run in a meet. That aggravated my ankle to the point that the ligaments tore again, only much worse this time. This time, I was out for the season. And basketball season. And track season. I had learned my lesson about not following the doctor’s advice, and I passed my sophomore year without doing any sports. My junior year, I tried again. I had emerged as one of the leading distance runners on my track and cross country teams, but I was simply not good enough to win a state medal. In cross country, I took 54<sup>th</sup>, and only 20 medal. In track, I had not even cared how I competed. Then I began preparing for my senior year. That summer, I worked harder than I had thought possible. When cross-country came, I started the season out strong, and climbed the state rankings. When I had reached the 16th rank in the state, I was feeling pretty good about where I was standing and where I was going. Then I got tendonitis in my foot, and my season went downhill from there. I took 34th at state. This season, that had been my one vision that had motivated me more than anything else. My goals of winning a medal at the Monte Andrus and being a district champion faded in comparison with my goal of holding one of those medals from the state championship up high so that the whole crowd at Bronco Stadium could see. This was my time. This was my last shot. This was where it was all going to happen.
As we rounded into the second lap, I counted the people in front of me. I was in 8th place, right where I should be. Technically, I was ranked 12th, but that was based on a district time that I ran just as fast as I had to in order to win the race. The best my coach and I could figure, I would have been ranked 7th if I had been pushed to my limits at the district meet.
Now, looking ahead of me and seeing those two sophomores in step with Wilson, way ahead of the crowd, I felt good. When those two sophomores ran out of energy and we all passed them, I would be in sixth place. Six people earned medals. Six people earned the glory that I had always dreamed of. I just needed to pass two more people.
I noticed the guy in front of me started breathing irregularly. I smiled as I realized that he was getting tired. At the end of the second lap, I made my move and passed him. Being passed was enough to make him lose heart and fall back. I was in seventh going into the third lap
In the third lap, the sophomores faltered. It was too much, and they did not have the energy to keep up with Wilson anymore. They fell back and got passed by one person at a time. I passed them midway through the lap. Fifth place. I could feel it. I was not getting tired. Every moment seemed to give me more energy. Every step brought me closer and closer to my goal.
At the beginning of the fourth lap, I noticed that I could not hear any footsteps behind me. That meant that the guy in sixth place was at least 10-15 meters back. With that lead, and the rhythm that I was in, there was no way that two guys were going to pass me. This was my race.
As the end of the fourth lap, and the midpoint of the race, drew closer, I felt a twinge in my right leg. It was so annoying. About halfway through this season, I had developed a knot in my shin. These shin splints would come and bug me, but had never slowed me down. I was able to keep on running just as I had been.
At the end of the fifth lap, with only three laps to go, I was feeling more encouraged than I ever had. As I went around the curve to start the sixth of eight laps, I had a good view of the entire field of runners. As expected, Wilson was nearly a hundred meters ahead of 2nd place. From second to fifth, we were really close, and second place was looking like it was up for grabs. I was about 30 meters ahead of 6th place, and he was a good distance ahead of the guy behind him. The two sophomores had fallen clear to 16th and 17th. Yes, they were good runners, but they needed some more time and coaching to achieve greatness.
As we came into the back stretch of the sixth lap, the twinge in my leg suddenly went from a twinge to a sharp, searing pain. As soon as it happened, I limped for a few steps. I told myself to ignore it and finish the race, but by the time the sixth lap was over, I had been passed by one runner. I was begging my body to hold up just so that I could stay where I was for two more laps, but I was soon passed again, falling to seventh place. I was passed again, and again, and again. When I fell into 13th place, I noticed that it was Jiménez that was passing me, the very same person that took second behind me at districts. As he passed me, he slapped me on the back and said, with a slight accent, "Come on, BBO! I have never seen you run this bad. Pick it up man."
Almost at the same time, I saw a blur of orange blaze past me. It was Wilson, heading down the final stretch. I had just been lapped for the first time in almost a year and a half. As I finished lap number seven, I could barely stand the pain.
I kept running, but every step made the pain in my leg grow stronger and stronger. As I rounded the last curve and headed into the final straightaway, I was in 15th place, with two sophomores sprinting as hard as they were able to catch up. With ten meters to go, one of them passed me, and I finished in 16th place. I looked back and saw the one runner that I beat cross the finish line behind me. I collapsed and whimpered to myself for a moment.
A trainer had noticed my limp as I ran, and came running to the finish line, helped me up, and half carried me to the trainers’ tent. The next while passed by like a blur as the medical trainers examined my leg and spoke to my coach. I caught tiny clips of the conversation. "...not good..." "...could be bad..." "...he trained too hard..." "...needs to see a doctor..."
It was all that I could do to hold back the tears that came from the pain and disappointment. I finally realized that my dad was standing right next to my cot. When they had taped me up and given me some pain killer, my dad helped me hobble from the tent. Several races had passed, and we headed towards the section of the stands where all of the Valley Viking fans were cheering for my teammates.
When we got to the base of the stands, I turned to look at what was happening at midfield. Six of the guys that I had just raced against were standing behind the medal podium, and the loudspeaker began to blast. "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! PLEASE TURN YOUR ATTENTION TO THE MEDAL STAND FOR THE PRESENTATION OF MEDALS IN THE MENS 2A 3200 METER RUN!! IN SIXTH PLACE, A JUNIOR FROM NAMPA CHRISTIAN HIGH SCHOOL..." Unable to contain it anymore, I buried my head in my dad's shoulder and bawled.