Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

A last-place lesson

FOR A WALTER Mitty moment, I could see myself as a hero. But then reality set in, and everyone else saw me as I really was: a huffing, puffing also-ran.

To be honest, I didn’t hold out much hope when I lined up for the school’s “Under-15s” 800 meter final. As a second-string runner I’d done well to qualify at all. But, hey, miracles happen, right?

It all started to go wrong when we squeezed into the first corner, where someone’s foot caught one of mine. I went sprawling, left flat on my back as the rest of the pack loped off onto the straightaway.

Embarrassment rather than ego got me back to me feet quickly. But then I faced the question: What do I do now? Maybe I should have feigned injury and limped off the track, but that face-saving move didn’t occur to me. So, instead, I set off in vain pursuit.

I imagined myself as a real-life Alf Tupper, the working class underdog. Fueled by an unlikely diet of fish and chips and simple grit, Alf always beat the snobby athletes in my favorite British boyhood comic strip, “Tough of the Track.” With Dave Wottle’s astonishing, true-life come-from-behind Olympic gold victory also in mind, I sped along and actually managed to close the gap significantly as we went into the next corner.

But then, physiology shot down my flight of fantasy: I simply wasn’t good enough to keep it up. By the time we entered the second and final lap, the gap between me and the rest of them had widened back to its trip-and-fall distance. And I was gasping for air.

When I finally flailed across the finish line, looking more nauseous than noble, the others had already walked away. The athletes for the next race were lining up. So much for my dreams of glory. Not only had I failed to become a hero, I wondered what people who hadn’t seen my fall might think if they just happened to look over and catch me trailing home. What a loser, probably.

What’s the lesson, other than watch where you’re putting your feet? Maybe that gallant intentions are not always enough without the ability to back them up, and others may misunderstand your efforts. But it’s still worth a try. You can walk away with head held high (especially important if you feel like you are about to throw up), knowing you gave it your best shot.

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