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  • By Autumn Eastman
    Grade 12, Champlain Valley Union High School

    I wake up to that familiar feeling in my gut, a turmoil that reminds me of the challenge that I am about to face. It’s race day.

    I didn’t sleep very well last night. I tossed and turned, and when I did sleep, I dreamt about running and racing and outcomes good and bad.

    I get up and unfold the red, black and white uniform that represents me as a runner, my accomplishments, the team’s accomplishments and the races to come. I dress in my “lucky”outfit – we runners are quite a superstitious bunch – which means the same socks, same sports bra, same hair ties and includes the same breakfast, same routine every race day so we can reassure ourselves that this race day will be a good race day. All of this is mental, I know, but racing is a huge mental game. And whatever helps me cope with that stress of not knowing the outcome of the race before I race, I go for it. …

    It’s been a long time since I first started to run, since I discovered that this is something that could drive me so. When I was really young, I remember on bright, cool, fall days, watching my Dad tie up his mangled sneakers and head out the front door for the occasional run.
    When I turned 8, I told him I wanted to tag along with him. His face lit up. We jogged down the road a little ways and came back. My stride was three times as short as his, so I struggled to keep up. But we kept at it.

    I went through the same generic sports most young girls go through: ballet, soccer, horseback riding, the occasional tag and hide-and-go-seek.
    It wasn’t until middle school that I discovered cross country running. Hayley, my best friend then, told me to do it with her. … At first, I was in the same mix as everybody else, but then I grew, seasons passed and my reasons for running changed. I was no longer running for friends, I began realizing I was good at it.
    In eighth grade, when I ran with my Dad, I was no longer slowing him down, I was right with him, and I felt good doing it. And during races I started developing my own little methods for coping with the stress; every runner I passed or was with, I would either talk to or exchange a “good job.” I was a one-girl cheering squad roving through the woods, and, for some odd reason, each time I offered a word of encouragement to another runner, a burst of energy entered my body, and I kept furthering my strides to the next runner.

    And then there was this one race. As we were milling around in the open field, we spied tables covered with trays of cookies and other sweets – prizes, we learned, for the winning runners. I decided. Hinesburg Community School was going to win one of those plates.

    I strode to the front of the pack and soon led the team and then the race. And as I sprinted toward the finishing stretch, I began lapping a couple of the boys in the back. Crossing the finish line, a gray-haired woman ripped the tag from my bib and sent me on my way. A short time later, at the awards ceremony, they called my name to receive a huge plate of cookies. I was overjoyed. And grabbed a couple.

    “Aren’t you going to share those with your team?” my Dad asked.

    I admit to just a twinge of reluctance, but agreed. Within moments they were gone. But the sweet taste of victory made the wheels turn in my head; I wanted more, I wanted the feeling of another win. ...

    Editor’s Note: Autumn Eastman, a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, VT, is one of the best distance runners in Vermont and is part of one of the most successful Vermont school running teams ever. Last fall, Young Writers Project asked Autumn to begin writing about her running, to show us what it was like and to explain why she does what she does so hard and so well. Autumn’s story sparked the idea for a new YWP feature, INSPIRED: Young people write about what inspires them to succeed. This is an excerpt of Autumn’s first piece called, Discovery, which appears in its entirety on YWP will publish additional pieces later this fall; you can also follow Autumn’s Journal.
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