I dreamed, every night, of the glory in hiking those mountain forests. Of chasing after the bears along rocky streams. Of racing to the crisp peaks to write about the impossibly beautiful scene. For almost two years my nights were laced with the ecstasy of natural beauty. “Twenty-six students. Two teachers. Three weeks out west.” Those three sentences, so simple, had my heart pumping from the get-go. All that stood in the way was a physical examination. I was going to try my best to pass and make that dream a reality. It’s my belief, though, that the best of one’s abilities can always be better.
In. Out. In. Out. Every breath and every step rattled my chest to the core, but I had to do it. In. Out. I just kept telling my lungs to breathe, telling my thighs to quit throbbing and telling my laden feet to keep moving forward. In. Out. In- Ten more laps to go- Out. I can do this! I passed a few people along the way, to my amazement. In. Out. Seven more laps to go. Emotionless tears ran off the sides of my cheeks as my diaphragm reminded me how long it had been since I’d taken Gym. The little jerk must have been stabbing my lungs with a rib it cracked off. In… In- Out. My throat was stuffed with cotton balls but I kept on forcing myself to breathe. In…. In. In… *Hack, hack- cough.* Then out it came. My spine twisted to the side and my jaw wrenched with it as my body gave up on the cause. My stomach spilled out into the grass beside the track as I slowed to a walk. I pushed hard on my stomach and told myself that I couldn’t give up after getting so far already. I looked up into the spinning sky and clenched my eyes shut so the tears would go somewhere else. Keep going! I kept running and my stomach faded into numbness; it didn’t hurt anymore. Just four laps to go! And then it hit me. My guts forced my hands to my knees as my stomach shoved the rest of its contents to my throat. It all came out. My lunch, my Gatorade, my hopes, and my dreams. They sank there in that blurry puddle.
“I’m not done!” I rasped to myself. For two more laps I half-jogged, half-weaved until I noticed I was the only one still running. Twenty-five of my town’s best students were on the sidelines, some cheering for victory and some catching their breath. As I swerved past them they all cheered, but I realized I was still half of a mile away from them. I kept going until the teachers in charge told me to stop a whole lap early. The three of us stood alone, and they looked at me with frowns that I could only escape through their deep, sad eyes.
“Dillon… what happened?” they asked.
I don’t know.
“We told you to prepare early and you didn’t; why?” they questioned.
I don’t know.
“You’re not going to be able to go on this trip and you’re taking it with a straight face. Aren’t you even going to cry?” one remarked.
I can’t. Not right now.
“We’ll give you the full refund… Dillon, you really disappointed us with this,” said the other.
They walked away and finished the last lap around the track with a lump in my stomach that had nothing to do with vomit. I passed the puddle of dreams I’d lost and managed to choke out the first true tear that night.
I pedaled my bike home with those dead legs and kept telling myself “I did my best!” I got in the shower to wash away the emotions and it really struck me for the first time in my life: sometimes it takes even more than doing your absolute best to succeed. I believe that sometimes you’ve got to push yourself to the limit and beyond. You have to break those limits and build them higher several times before you can achieve your most worthwhile goals.