14 feet, 6 inches
Adam had his first track meet today.
He jumped 14 feet and 6 inches, flying through the sky like he had wings at an impossible distance. I was awestruck. But this was not his first jump.
His first jump was 13 feet and 8 inches. His second, he made it 13 feet 10 inches.
You get three tries. His third was his best.
So of course I was impressed at his improvement. But it's what happened about an hour before he jumped, and what has happened since this afternoon, that will remain in my heart.
Adam was set to run the last leg of the 4 man relay. He'd apparently shown a lot of promise in practice, and was chosen as the "anchor", the one who could bring up the rear and lead the team to a win. We were excited to be sitting fifty feet before the finish line.
Adam received the baton at a trot, and then with a burst he exploded into motion. The team was in second place, but not for long. As he drew closer to the finish line, I was amazed by the look of ferocity and determination on his face. His arms looked like pistons pumping in time to the blur of his wide steps. The hours spent in recent weeks lifting weights payed off in the ripples of lean muscles that suddenly seemed to pop out on every inch of him. I felt a thrill rise up in me that surprised me as he flashed by. It called out "that's my boy!", but only in my head. Out loud, my mouth yelled, "Go! Go! Go!", but it seemed like I wasn't calling out encouragement so much as I was simply narrating what already was. Look at him GO!
He pulled right up to the last runner and bolted past. It was glorious. He was headed for the finish line! As he crossed right in front of us, in a split second and a century, depending on if you ask my eyes or my heart, I saw his legs sort of buckle, and with all that speed and fury, he plowed into the ground.
He rolled once, and again halfway, before the force that had driven him finally let him stop. The baton flew from his hand and for a moment he barely moved. In that split second my heart also split. "Ooooh!" the crowd called in sympathy. I felt a dozen things, all in my mother heart, imagining what the world must suddenly look like from down there on the ground. Embarrassment? Pain? Shame? Humiliation? I could barely stand it. I knew in that moment that he had to get up - to be able to live with himself and ever set foot on the track again - he had to get up and finish. "You can do it!" I called. Others did too. He rose to the chorus and trot-stumbled across the finish line, last place.
I let my eyes linger on him until the crowd of his teammates and a few adults gathered around him. If I couldn't be there for him, at least somebody was. Only then did I let my eyes fill with the tears that had been waiting till I knew he was okay. I turned to look at Guy beside me, and was met with his glistening eyes. We would talk later, about how this had thrown us back into our own teenage disappointments. We have both had our stumbles in front of a crowd, but I don't think anything we had experienced could compare to this literal fall. How a parent's heart can ache for a child.
Before his last event, I talked with him. He seemed okay, though the road rash in about 8 places told a different story. But he didn't falter. When I asked if it hurt, he said, "Yeah, a little, pretty much... a lot."
"I don't know what happened," he said, "I think I blacked out."
He had. As we put it all together later, it turns out that a granola bar and a carton of milk way back at lunchtime and nothing else can make a body feel faint. He said that the world had all gone black, and he felt his legs buckle under him. He said next he was dreaming that he was at a track meet, but then when he woke, opened his eyes and saw that he was, he was confused. It was like someone had just dropped him down into the middle of the meet. He thought "baton", and then "stay in my lane", and then "finish".
And he did.
Yes, he fell.
Yes, he jumped 14 feet and 6 inches.
And it was the courage in between that I will remember.