Here’s the second draft of my This I Believe essay. Any feedback would, as usual, be much appreciated.
The sound of the starter’s gun always brings a mix of emotions to me. There’s the feeling of eagerness, yet underlying that, like the dark foreshadowing in a movie, is the thought of the pain I must endure in order to run faster. The argument always plays out in my head, over whether I want to go through the ordeal again. And every time, I come to the same conclusion. It won’t be as bad, the pain won’t be as bad as I think it will, and why not? Why not just try, just in case something good happens. And if not, well, it can’t be any worse than the last time. And so I run. The first half of the first lap is easy. I feel as if I have wings on my feet. My strides eat up ground so quickly, I delight in the abilities of my body. There’s a certain pleasure in a good stride, knowing how swiftly I cover the ground. For a second, I almost forget what’s to come.
There are times when I must summon my courage. Yet what is courage? It is defined as the ability to encounter difficulties without fear. But courage is so much more than that. It is not about succeeding at the first opportunity, it is about knowing of the very real chance of failure, and trying regardless. It is not being the best soldier, and charging into battle, as we are led to believe. It is about deliberately ignoring the pain or the anticipation of pain. It is about quelling the anticipation and nerves running through my system. This is courage.
There comes a time when I’m running a cross-country race, when I begin to hurt. I run, alone in the trees. Trees that once seemed to be filled with sunshine, are now dark. Where the track was soft and cushioned, it’s now muddy, and seems to suck my feet in. I become more aware of my body. Of my feet, now feeling like they’re made of lead. Of my legs, aching in the quads. Of the sharp pain in my side, burning every time I suck in a breath. And most especially, of my breathing. Of sucking more and more oxygen in, but never feeling better. Of the dryness of my throat, and knowing that no water is on the way. The particular feeling when my breath catches, with my mouth dry, and I feel like I want to throw-up. When everyone is passing me, and I am at me weakest, is when I need to summon my courage.
Inevitably, the pain comes. It’s not a slow ascension, like the onset of a fever. It comes right in my face, felling me like a rock on my head. This is the most crucial point of the entire race. The point in the race, where as my coach so eloquently puts it, “separates men from boys.” But what’s the difference? The only difference is that boys know to stop when it starts hurting.
Inside my head, I have the same argument again. Do I really want to keep going? I thought it wouldn’t be as bad. I was wrong, it was worse. Do I have the strength to keep running? But even as my mind debates, my body makes the decision for me. My legs are already going, why stop? And I realize that courage is a multifaceted trait. It is not only ignoring the pain, it is choosing to go, before your mind can tell you to stop. This is courage.
The final end of the race is always the best part. I’m through the hardest bit, and have decided to just keep going. There’s just one more hill, and the homestretch, and I’ll be finished. The end is where I do best. I can feel the energy returning again, now that I can see the finish line. I know that I have already succeeded, just by trying, and all that remains is to finish it off. My arms are pumping now, so well synchronized with my legs. My breath comes in ragged gasps, and I can see my opponent’s back now. Still charging down the straightaway, with my teammate’s cheers in my ears, and my coaches voice still ringing in my ears, I’m propelled by all their hopes. I feel like a hero now. All of the best heroes must go through struggles before they can celebrate. Men like Terry Fox, who battled through cancer, or Nelson Mandela, who battled through prejudice, all had to survive their personal battles before they could fight bigger ones. And now I have too. I stagger across the finish line victorious, not just in this race, but in this battle. I haven’t won the war yet, I’ll be fighting it the rest of my life. But I’ve faced down my fears, and it’s made me stronger as a person. I know have a greater knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses. And my courage has grown. Maybe next time, I won’t be so nervous before the race. But I doubt it. I believe that courage isn’t about success, it’s about confronting my previous fears and failures to see just how much I’ve improved. This is the true definition of courage.