Track and Cross Country were a large part of my college experience for four years, so competitive running often enters my mind as an analogous explanation for the world around me. Anyone who has seen a Gold Medal sprint during the Summer Olympics—even those who don’t follow track—can understand the tension that builds up as the athletes set themselves in their blocks before the race. The beginning of a sprint is everything. The race can be won or lost right there at the start. Each athlete explodes out of the box using his/her own self as the guide when to do so. This is necessary to a successful finish, but it can also lead to a false start—the quickest way to loose in track. In a false start, all of the energy builds up to the point that a fuse is blown—an athlete takes off early—and the whole event is shut down and re-set. The field decreases by one and the tension builds by ten.
False starts are devastating but decisive in a sprint. I was two meters away from the starting line of the 200m Division III National Indoor Championship when a female athlete got herself disqualified by false start. My brain immediately went to visualizing all of the alternate realities in which this woman won the race as if to make up for the fact that she no longer even had the chance in our own reality. It was cold to imagine all of those possibilities suddenly extinguished. I was struck by how calm the athlete was as she accepted her punishment and left the track. Perhaps she had already accepted—long before the race began—that she lived and died in one single moment.
Maybe I couldn’t understand this athlete’s collectedness because I was a distance runner.