Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I started to run and quickly shot to the front of the pack. I was in a full sprint. My legs were pumping and my hand swinging as fast as they could. The warm breeze blew by my face at an incredible speed.
I thought I had no equal on the track that day.
I heard the roar of the crowd as they cheered their favorite runner on and their favorite house. I streaked down the front straight-away – keeping my eyes on the upcoming turn. Spectator’s hands were pumping in the air – cheering, yelling – it was bacchanal.
Being in front of the pack felt liberating. It seemed like I was all by myself in a field, running just for the fun of it.
A quick glance back revealed that I had pulled away from the group. That motivated me to run faster. Sweat started to drip down my forehead.
Seventy yards had gone by in a flash as I rounded the middle of the first turn. I was doing well and allowed a smile to cross my face. I had opened up a 10 yard lead and was beginning to tear down the back-straight.
I was still sprinting at top speed as I got to the 100 yard mark. I was going to win this race – I softly said to myself.
As an adult, I know what “hitting the wall” means. As an 11 year old, I was about to find out.
Shortly after hitting the 100 yard mark, my legs began to burn something terrible. They felt heavy as if someone filled them with caulking material. It happened very rapidly. It was like running through a curtain and coming out on the other side feeling like you just completed a marathon only after staying up all night drinking Johnny Walker and coconut water.
My breathing became labored. My arms that were pumping in unison earlier in the race began flailing. My strides became shorter and my head started tilting back. I was struggling. A look back revealed that the group behind me was approaching quickly.
I had hit the wall and it was going to get worse.
I continued on and when I reached the final turn, the first runner from the group in the back pulled along-side me. I caught him glance over to me as if to say, you probably forgot this is the 200 yard dash…see yah!
And with a glance, he pulled away. As much as I willed myself to go faster, my body responded with a resounding – No!
Another runner followed the first one and then another and then another. By the time we hit the final straight-away, and with the finish line in site – I was looking at the backs of 10 runners. They had all passed me like a peloton reeling in a break-away rider in the Tour de’ France.
My strategy was all wrong. I had used up all my energy early on and now I had none. All I wanted now was to hold on and not finish last.
There were still two runners behind me. I needed for them to finish behind me in order to save face with Mr. Orosco and my classmates.
I steadied myself and concentrated on running. But it felt like I was running in cement carrying a fifty pound rucksack on my back. The two runners crept up slowly and passed me with 3 yards to go. The peloton had no mercy. I crossed the finish line in last place then immediately fell on the grass track.
I was spent, dejected, and defeated. I was breathing so hard that I thought my lungs were going to explode out of my chest. I saw little black spots in my vision – a sign I was about to pass out.
Mr. Orosco walked up to me and asked, “boy what were you doing out there?” I couldn’t respond. Who the hell was this looking over me? All I saw was a pair of large framed glasses on a round head with a bushy black beard.
“Mr. Orosco?” I replied like an exhausted runner being interviewed right after a 100 yard dash by a sports commentator. “I uhh uhh…was trying uhh uhh uhh…to uhh uhh, win the uhh uhh, race uhh uhh.”
Mr. Orosco explained, “You went out to fast. Use your brain son next time!”
I remained on the ground for about five minutes. The starter had to tell me to get up because the next race going to begin. I literally dragged myself to the sideline and laid on my back. I remember the white puffy clouds and how perfect they looked racing across the blue skies.
I had lost the race but learned that strategy is always important.
Monday, June 6, 2011
March Pass at King George V Park on Sports Day
My BATA Bullets
Track and Field mess at Rosary Boys R.C. (Part I)
Track and field in Trinidad and Tobago is very popular. Like football and cricket, it is ingrained in the cultural fabric of our nation, schools and communities. We grew up as youngsters emulating T&T track stars like Hasely Crawford, Francis Adams, Mike Agostini, Edwin Roberts, and Wendell Mottley.
Boys and girls could be seen and heard running and playing in the yards of many schools across the country. We ran during and after school. We ran from home to the taxi stand in the morning to school. And the taxi stand to home in the afternoon. We ran during recess. We ran playing cricket, from Jack Spaniards, and to Griffith’s shop that sold the best ‘tulum’ either man or woman can make. We ran after barrel drum rings that we guided with our sticks in a game called hoop rolling. We ran while playing football as everyone displayed their novice skills while invoking the name of Pele and Beckenbauer.
Even in Port-of-Spain, a casual walk down Charlotte Street past Rosary Boys R.C. and the Royal Cinema would bring to one's ear the joyous sounds of laughter fading in and out as boy’s chest heaved up and down as they chased each other in the school yard during recess and lunch.
On the rolling hills of Maraval and Paramin are where my legs grew strong and I raced as quickly as my bare feet moved across hot concrete during sunny days. My thoughts of racing consumed me. At times I wished I could run all the way to NYC to be with my parents. I loved to run.
I ran primarily for fun. I liked the feeling of the wind blowing past my face and the thought of being free to explore as far as my legs could take me.
I also ran for Bosco House at Rosary Boys R.C.
Bosco House is one of the best and arguably the most celebrated of all the houses at Rosary Boys.
Boys at Rosary were divided into houses: Bosco; Aquinas; Porres; Savio. These represented saints in the Catholic Church.
The houses were akin to the houses at The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter novels. And we had fierce rivalries that would match that of Gryffindor and Slytherin.
Every two years in May, Rosary Boys R.C. would hold the Rosary Games - the Inter-House Athletic Championships - at King George V Park (better known as Pompi-eye) in St. Claire. Think of it as the Olympics of Rosary Boys RC. Everyone looked forward to the event which was usually held on a weekend and pitted all the houses against each other in intense competition.
The games included all sorts of sporting and skill events. There was the three legged race, the potato sack race, obstacle course and many others. There also were the running races – the 100 yard dash, the 220 yard dash, the 75 yard dash, and so on. These were the races that drew most of the attention from boys and spectators alike.
I ran the 220 yard dash as a junior in my first year of competition. It was one lap around the field that was half the size of a regular 440 yard track.
The field was a low cut Savannah type grass. Small flags were placed in the ground to outline the inner and outer boundaries of the track. There were no lane demarcations. The field was filed with pot marks – small ½ inch holes that posed a hazard to the unsuspecting runner.
Boys dressed in shorts and colored t-shirts that identified their house.
Families camped out around the field looking and cheering on their sons. Snow cone vendors were ideally positioned near the boys to maximize sales. The hot sun, blue skies, and gentle breeze held the rainy season at bay.
The megaphone in the background called out the upcoming races and boys raced to starting line as they heard their race called.
These were joyous days and the youthful exuberance of good clean competition enveloped the setting as revelry consumed the hearts and minds of masqueraders on Jouvert morning.
The Games always began after much pomp and circumstance. The Houses marched around the parade grounds. Boys marched behind a flag bearer like an army platoon and pass honored guests on the grounds. The National Anthem was played - followed by a few words from the Head master. Then the Games would be officially opened.
My 220 yard dash was late in the morning. I took the time to stretch and run around with my housemates. We played tag and even a brief game of marbles. I ate snow cone and corn while watching my teammates’ race. Jumping and yelling every time a Bosco house lad placed in a race.
Eventually, my race was called over the loud speaker. “All racers for the 220 yard dash report to the start line,” blasted the voice.
“That’s me!” I said, as I rose from the ground and trotted to the start line. My teammates responded, “go Salandy!” while patting me on the back as I ran along.
I selected the 220 yard dash because I was good in the 100 flat and thought I could do well in the 220. I had no formal training in track and had never run that distance competitively. The truth be told, I just wanted to run. I guess that is how thoroughbred horses feel about running.
I arrived at the start line and watched as the other competitors milled around waiting for further instructions from the starter. The starter was an older gentleman dressed in white slacks, a white shirt, white sneakers, and a maroon hat - the color of the West Indies Cricket team. In fact, he looked like a cricketer. He held a black starter’s pistol in his right hand and a clip board in the other. He looked down at the white pages on his clip board, raised his head and said 220 yard flat competitors take your mark at the start line.
My heart started beating fast and my hands got sweaty. There were 12 boys entering the blocks at the start line. There were two other boys from Bosco in the race. We did not receive any instructions from Mr. Orosco other than do your best. My strategy was to just run fast. Run like the wind. Run like a pack of pothounds were chasing you. Run because Bosco depended on you!
We lined up for the start of the race – our feet right behind the white line that ran across the green grass. I watched as the starter walked along the line of racers, peered down at our toes, and then sauntered into the infield.
The track lay ahead of us – one lap to glory is what ran through my mind. The grass felt a bit slippery under my canvas Bata Bullets. These sneakers would be the wings beneath my feet.
A crowd gathered in anticipation of the race. Teachers and boys were hollering and providing encouragement for their favorite House and racer. My grandmother and sister were there to root me on. My sister went to St. Rose’s Girls R.C. next to the Boy’s school. Some of St Rose’s girls were there to cheer on their brothers, cousins, and friends.
I lined up third from the inside. My competitors and I were lined up elbow to elbow trying to gain a competitive edge.
It was time! The starter yelled, “on your mark, get set!” Then the pistol went off.
The next 40 seconds would turn out to be one of the most interesting races I ever ran in my life and a valuable lesson learned!