The air is cool as the Concordia track team pulls up to the SAS gate, and despite my nerves, I can’t help but look out eagerly at the lush field and giant track lined with colourful streamers and several dozen athletes already warming up. Just a year prior, the team had hurriedly sped from these gates fleeing from security when the school announced a COVID case- their first and only meet of the year. A month-long lockdown, a new school year, two seasons of sports, and more later, we were back. For many, it was our first-ever season with meets. As we stretched on the vast field, I found myself thinking back to our training. Echoing in my head was a single word, emblazoned into the minds of the team when Coach underlined it on whiteboards, in private pep talks, and in impassioned speeches given as the team huddled. Attitude. Our goal here was our attitude. If you think you’re going to lose, half the race is already over.
Watching the other schools, it was easy to doubt ourselves. Many of us were tired, weary, and discouraged, consoling ourselves with sarcastic jokes as we sat on the sidelines. Yet despite ourselves, we found our enthusiasm growing. We dreaded our own races but hollered and whooped for our teammates in exhilarated support. We were wary of the other teams at first but found ourselves making friends and cheering on familiar faces from the other schools. And finally, when it was time for our own events, we found our coach’s words returning to us. Even when I sighed and made weary faces at my teammates as I found my place on the starting line, the thoughts going through my head were the mantras our coach had drilled into us. I got this. It’s going to be okay. I’m fast, I’ve been training hard, and I’m going to win. I have my teammate with me, and we’re going to get the top spots in our event. Ready, set, go.
This mindset permeated everything we did, and when one of us was down, the others would lift us up. Walks to the starting line with teammates were peppered with encouragements that started semi-sarcastic but grew earnest. “We’re the speediest runners here!” “That’s right!” “Speediest alive!” “We got this.” When the whistle was blown before one of our sprinters was ready, she caught up and won the race. When a hand-off went wonky, the runner twirled, grabbed the baton with a wheezing grin, and shot off to victory. When a hurdler fell early in the 400, scratching their shoulder until it was bloody, they jumped up and continued leaping over hurdles for the remaining 300 meters. “I remembered coach saying attitude,” they shrugged. Attitude, attitude, attitude.
At the meet, the overwhelming feeling was one of camaraderie, as cliché as it may be. I spent the ride there sleeping on the shoulder of a teammate, sharing snacks they’d brought. Approximately half the team helped themselves to bites out of my hotdog, then ran to get some more to share. A teammate who’d fallen was immediately sat down by several of us the moment their race ended, stripped of shoes and diagnosed with injury before the medic could blink. I drank more water from other bottles than my own. Any Concordia jacket and crewneck strewn about the field was free real estate. After a particularly brutal race, hunched over and panting, I felt an arm around my shoulder before I'd even stood up. The goodbyes after are full of “get home safe!” and “text me when you get back!”s. And of course, who could forget the shouts of encouragement as our teammates did their events, despite the flu-ridden bout of coughs that overtook many of us in between enthusiastic cheers? Track is a team sport.
Finally, after a long three hours, holding shared food and each other’s backs, we gathered in a circle again to hear final comments before heading home. The coaches commended us, pointing out achievements including a new school record.
Good job, team. I wanted you all to show attitude, and we really pulled up and pushed through. I’m proud of how we did.
3, 2, 1… Despite our weary joints, tiredness, and sore throats, I don’t think we’ve ever yelled "PHOENIX!" that hard.
Written by Rei Ang