Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - Olympic Style

The thermostat at the pit is set on bake today despite the summer like temperature outside. One minute on the ¾ rack and the dew is falling harder than is really necessary but I’m determined to stick it out to the end of my programmed fat burner workout. I’ve cranked up the music and scanned the crowd for an interesting diversion to no avail. One of the national morning shows is on so I focus in on the flat screen television hanging in front of me. The world is abuzz with the Winter Olympics and it’s only a few minutes before the program switches to coverage of a downhill skiing event. I’m transported to another time and place….

High above the venue I’m poised on the brink. The tips of my skis point the way to greatness, but the path is not without danger. I am the best my country has to offer. I am good at what I do. I am the best. I am a champion. My heart tells me there is a disc of gold waiting for me at the end of this run. Everything within me knows this is true.

I close my eyes and listen to the roar of the crowd as one of my competitors completes the run setting the mark I must surpass. I need not strive for an Olympic or World Record, but only to complete the run a mere fraction of a second faster than the one before me. I can do it. I know I can. Eyes still closed I feel the cool, not cold air on my face. I see the run in my mind. I’ve been over it many times in training runs and qualifying heats and thousands of times over in my mind. I know every inch. I know about the block of ice along the first curve, the slush like quicksand that can suck you in and destroy your dreams along the inside of the third curve. In my mind’s eye I visualize every move I will make, every twist, every turn. My body responds and I can almost feel the ground under my skis and the wind on my face.

For days I’ve prayed for snow but Mother Nature has forsaken us. There is no fresh powder to cushion the run. I long for the feel of laying first tracks on a pristine run, but will settle for the hard packed base and alternating patches of ice and slush.

Electronic beeps signal the countdown. I draw in a deep, cleansing breath and savor the hint of pine and fir carried on the spring like air. A drop of sweat trickles down my spine, not from fear but a product of the warm weather. No matter. I have trained for this. My coach adds his voice to the electronic beeps. I open my eyes and focus on a point some distance away. That is where I must shift my weight into the first turn.

The final beep, good luck shouted to my back as I shove with all my might and propel myself over the edge and hopefully into history. Adrenaline flows through my veins, a drug like no other. I welcome the rush; savor the edge it will give me.

I see nothing but white ice and the blue lines painted underneath to mark my way. I do not need them; my body knows the way down the hill. I could do this run with my eyes closed. My skis cut into the ice on the first turn, my legs burn with the effort to control my descent. Man against nature. Physics, action and reaction, friction and heat. All my senses are tuned to the run. My skin registers the unwelcome warm temperature, a warning in itself. I hear the rasp of wood on ice, then the shush of softly frozen mush, like skiing through a pina colada. My eyes scout ahead to the next curve, the next soft spot, and the next patch of ice. I try to anticipate where a thin crust of ice could be hiding a patch of ice cold quicksand.

Seconds. Milliseconds. My inner clock ticks away, calculating by instinct. I’m doing well, possibly better than I’ve ever done in my life. At this rate the gold disc is mine, if I can keep it up.

In the blink of an eye my world shifts on its axis. A new sound, one every skier dreads, meets my ears. A heartbeat, a lifetime of training, a dream dies with the sound of cracking ice followed by the tell tale sound of slush sucking my ski into its bottomless pit. Another heartbeat and a spray of icy pellets sear my cheeks, or perhaps those are my frozen tears. After the unseasonable warm temperature above it’s like being dropped into an ice bath. My fevered skin protests, muscles scream against the change in program. No, not that way! My body fights the inevitable. There is a disconnect between brain and muscle.

My body slams into the solid block of ice clinging to the next curve and careens off into yet another wet trap. Everything in me, muscle, bone, thought, dream, desire, hope, screams in protest of this undignified end. At last I come to a complete stop. Seconds. The metal discs, all of them are beyond my reach. All I can do now is right myself and see it through to the end.

Flags wave and the crowd cheers as I limp across the finish line. Seconds. Minutes. Crushed dreams, but still I have lived the moment. I am an Olympian. I have given it my all and even though it wasn’t enough, I gave it with all my heart.

Tears stream down my cheeks. Tears of exhaustion. Tears of defeat. Tears of pride.

Not tears, dew. Sweat to everyone else. I glance down at the computer on the ¾ rack. Thirty seconds have passed, twenty-five and one half minutes to go on my fat burner workout. I can do this. I know I can. Everything in me knows I am a champion. For a moment I lived the dream.

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