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My Sister, My Aching Legs and the 10K Race

A short story by Sally Berneathy

          My first 10K race. The starter's gun exploded, a kaleidoscope of balloons floated across the wide Texas sky, and over 10,000 sweaty bodies began pushing and shoving against each other, creeping into the annual 10K Azalea Run. My sister, Polly, bounced and stretched, running in place, acting like one of those rodeo bulls trapped in the chutes just before the gates are opened. I eased my body along cautiously, knowing I would need every ounce of energy I could store up before this day was over.


As the crowd thinned, we began to jog. Polly ran beside me for a while, as she should sinceshe's the one who got me into this mess.However, before we reached the first milemarker, she couldn't hold back any longer and ran on ahead, leaving me behind—just likeall those other 10,000 people were doing.


          Before my sister disappeared into the distance, she looked back, waved and shouted that she'd see me at the finish line. She always did have a sarcastic mouth on her.


          I continued loping along, taking time to smell the azaleas. I had spent over a year increasing my running distance from three blocks to three miles and felt pretty good about that accomplishment.


          I have never been athletically inclined. All through school I was the tall, skinny nerd with glasses who was the last chosen for any sport at recess.


          "You have to take her this time. I had her last time."


          "No, you didn't. You won last time, and you couldn't've won if you'd had her on your team."


          My sister came along four years later, one of those kids who did the choosing. She was cute and tiny and the home-coming queen as well as left tackle for the neighborhood football team. She was a track star in school and continued to run every 10K that came along as well as the occasional marathon.


And she nagged me, incessantly, to take up running.


          When I finally confessed to her that I was actually running 3 miles a day, she was ecstatic! She said she was proud of me! She said I was ready for a 10K race. That's 6.2 miles, over twice what I'd ever run before! I said she was nuts, and successfully backed out of the first three races she came up with.Iwouldn't have been in this one if I hadn't run out of excuses. It's hard to convince your sister that your grandmother just died again.


          The night before the Azalea Run I prayed desperately for rain.My sister prayed for sunshine. You see who got her way.


          However, if the deed were unavoidable…and with my pushy sister, it was!...the Azalea Run was a good one because the entire route was lined with dense foliage. I figured when I got too far behind the last person or collapsed on the track, whichever came first, I could just crawl off under a bush, sneak around, make my way back to the car and hide until the whole thing was over.


I successfully rounded the two-mile marker without having to put this plan into effect. I was still hanging tough, and I wasn't the last person in the race. I knew this because people were still streaming around me from all sides.


          By the four-mile marker, those old endorphins had kicked in, and I was feeling no pain! My confidence rose exponentially. I wasn't doing so bad. Fewer runners were passing me. Of course, that wasn't really surprising. We were bound to run out of people sooner or later.


          Nevertheless, I was certain I could run the remaining 2.2miles with both feet tied behind my back.


          Somewhere into the fifth mile, those lovely endorphins gave way to exhaustion, and I realized I wasn't going to make it after all. . My feet weighed two tons each. Every muscle in my legs was screaming in agony, demanding to know what it had ever done to me to deserve such cruel punishment.


          I started to look around for the nearest bush with a space large enough to crawl under.


          What I saw instead was a runner peeling off the track to stand on the sidelines, panting and gasping.


Ahead of me, several runners were walking.


          I was passing people!


The race was almost over and I was still alive and somehow able to put one 2-tonfoot in front of the other 2-ton foot in some semblance of running.


          I began to hope that I was going to make it after all.


          Then at the six-mile marker, only 300 yards to the finish line, I turned a corner and saw The Hill looming ahead, taunting me with its knowledge that I could not conquer it. I considered falling to my knees and crawling up, but the race photographer stood at the top, taking pictures as each runner crested the peak. I wondered if my sister would show our mother the picture of me having a heart attack at the top of that blasted hill.


          Halfway up, I glanced at the guy running beside me. He was tall, would have towered over me had he been able to stand up straight. As it was, our faces were on the same level. His looked like that famous painting of The Scream, just the way I felt.


          Suddenly I heard someone calling my name. An angel, no doubt, come to escortme out of my aching, abused body to a better world, a world where there were no 10K races and no pushy sisters.


          "Sprint on in!" that same voice called."You can do it! Sprint on in!"


          No angel had ever been that pushy.


          I looked around and spotted my sister's strawberry blond head bobbing in and out of sight as she pushed through the crowd, making her way back along the sidelines in my direction.


          Sprint on in? Was she trying to kill me? I wasn't sure at that point I could crawl in.


          Blinking the sweat from my eyes, I tried to focus on her. She was jumping up and down, grinning, yelling, waving...following me in along the sidelines.


          Somehow I sprinted. I smiled for the camera. The photographer caught me straight and tall with the Scream face guy plodding behind. He obviously didn't have a pushy sister.


          Polly jumped and yelled.


          My life flashed before my eyes as I sprinted across that cursed finish line.


          My sister met me there, threw her arm over my shoulders and shared her paper cup of warm water.


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