I was grabbing a t-shirt out of my drawer to go run. When I realized which one I was ready to place on my back, I decided to snap a picture and share.
This is a shirt that I bought while I was in Milwaukee competing in the Short Track National Championship in 2005. I always try to buy something from a meet so I can support the club that is hosting and it is usually a t-shirt. It was my second Nationals competition and my first time at the Pettit National Ice Center. I never really paid much attention to the list of names. Whenever I wear this to practice, I tend to find skaters following me around. I get that feeling, like someone is looking over your shoulder and when I turn around I hear ” Oh, sorry…just reading your shirt!” I’ve always said to myself I should check it out, but I forget and it gets shoved in the bag after practice, goes through the laundry and back in the drawer until next time.
The year before, in Cleveland, I was a nervous wreck. It was my very first National competition and I had never skated a 3000m, that is 27 grueling laps. I had butterflies for days leading up to it and thought I was going to get sick while sitting in the heatbox. I lined up at the start and off I went. I remember skating cat and mouse with another skater; I’d pass her and she would pass me, I would pass her and so on. Our skinsuits looked similar and our helmet numbers were very close. We were lapped a few times by three other skaters, so as a lap counter, it was probably hard to keep track of who was who and how we would finish. As a skater, there comes a point in this race that you stop counting the laps because you are focused on just get me to the finish. When you are in the “pain cave” (a term very aptly coined by Andrew Love) you focus on who is going to end your suffering; you find your counter, search for the outstretched hand showing how many laps of pain you have left and make eye contact to make sure they are talking to you.
The lap counter was calling out our helmet numbers…you have 3 laps to go…..helmet number….you have 3 laps to go…..could I be ahead??? When I came to the last lap, the bell rang as I passed. Then it rang again behind me. We finished and I was immediately given a hug from my teammate (winner of this race) and fellow competitor who was waiting in the center of the ice. I remember her whispering in my ear-“I am so proud of you! You did it! You rock!”
I eagerly awaited the results and when they were posted, I stood there in complete shock. Next to my name was a big DNF (Did Not Finish). My teammate told me to go to our coach and tell him to protest. When the heat card was presented, there were a lot of erased pencil marks…you could tell that the counters were confused. You could literally SEE it. Shoulders were shrugged and that was that. I was devastated. My competitor was gloating on her 4th place medal. I learned something about myself that day-missing out on a medal was not what bothered me. Having a DNF next to my name, knowing full well that I suffered through that race and DID FINISH bothered me much more. My coach and friends tried to make me feel better by telling me their stories of losing overall National Championships on calls just like this. It was just part of the game.
When it came time for Nationals in Milwaukee, I was focused. I was focused on one race and one race alone. I had trained all year for this 3k. There was going to be no doubt what-so-ever that I crossed that finish line. In a recent Olympic commercial spot, Apolo Anton Ohno speaks of a perfect race. He describes being so focused that time seems to slow down. This was my perfect race. I could hear nothing but my coach as I came into the turn telling me either go “deeper” into the turn or “good”. I could hear breathing behind me. I lead my competitor for 25 laps. With two to go, my coach kept saying “pick it up- now, now!” With one lap to go, she passed me and I could not answer it. My legs were wood. I could barely walk off the ice to sit on the bench. She came up to me, still breathing hard and said “Wow! You trained hard this year-that pace was fast- I did all I could do to hold on!” I did not win that race, but I consider that one of my perfect races. I improved my time from the previous year by almost 2 minutes and there could be no denying that I finished. I committed to skating a better race than the year before and I accomplished that. The slight nod and raised, impressed eyebrow from my coach, spoke volumes and that is when I felt as if I did win.
So, what does this have to do with my t-shirt? Well, I finally looked at all the skaters. If you look close at those listed, you will see many names that are competing in Vancouver, including Apolo who is only 15 competitor’s away from mine. Some have remained in Short Track and some have moved on to Long Track. They have made an Olympic team! After years of hard work and many, many competitons, I hope that their journey this February will allow them (medal or not) to experience their own “perfect race”.