This story is by Philip Shepherd and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
You know to be in the Olympics is very important in an athlete’s life. To reach an athletic event like the four hundred metres sprint can be the best time of anyone’s existence. In fact, during the last Olympics, I had to withdraw from the 1988 Seoul Games ten minutes before the start of the four-hundred metres sprint. So I felt I had everything to prove here in Barcelona some four years later. Not to my peers or my country but, as I admitted to my family, it was primarily to myself. Barcelona is lovely and warm in the summertime. It was very sunny and with plenty of different colours in the spectator crowd.
Qualifying with a great time had put me in lane five of this eight-lane track. I knew that I was expected to win and enter the finals so I could make a reasonable attempt to get a gold medal. It was good, and I was excited to see how much fun it will be to complete this race.
I do need a medal this time, whatever the colour. I started well qualifying for the semi-finals by making the top time in my heat.
As the gun signalled the start of this semi-final, I stormed out of the blocks. Making an excellent headway over the first hundred and fifty metres. The distance to the athlete in lane six was becoming shorter and shorter.
Yet, at that very point, my right leg hamstring seemed to tear. It was an intense pain that ripped through my upper thigh and made it impossible to continue. I slowed down immediately with a weak limb. My left leg was now holding all my body weight; I reached out my arms as the floor was coming towards me suddenly. I crouched on the floor with my right leg out straight. My eyes were shut as the pain of failure was dominant even over the torn hamstring pain, and began to consume me. I could still hear the rest of the runners pass me and sped away. On my hands and knees and now crippled, my Olympic dream over, yet again due to injury. My head bent forward, and I placed my hand over my face. The tears were about to burst from my eyes as my hopes and dreams were once more lost forever. How could injury happen on a race day once again?
I had a feeling deep within myself, and I couldn’t accept this failure once again, and I wouldn’t allow it. All the tears in my eyes were making viewing my location difficult. Wiping my arm over my eyes, and that removed a lot of the fluid. My hearing was not impaired, as I could hear the spectators clapping and cheering for the winner of the race. I didn’t know who had won at that time, but I ceased to care about winning. I reached down to the floor and pressed my body weight up being supported by my left leg. My only way forwards was to hop the rest of the way on that leg and remain in lane five to adhere to the Olympic race rules.
Trackside medical people began to arrive at my location, and one woman said, “Oh Sir, you’ve injured your leg.” she pointed to the track beside me, “Please lie down here, and we’ll bring a stretcher and take you to medical.”
All the injury pain was etched on my face as each hop was becoming more painful than the last. I turned my head to her and said, “No, leave me alone as I haven’t yet finished the race. I’ve still got another two-hundred and fifty metres to go.”
I wasn’t going to give up this year. I had promised myself, my father and my country that I would finish this race no matter what, and I was going to keep that promise.
The further around the track I hopped the more people were coming to my help. Six or seven people had arrived at my side and took hold of my arm so they could help me. I screamed at a guy that placed his hand on my shoulder. I turned and shouted, “Will you leave me alone, I’m gonna finish this race.” Finally viewing through the tears in my eyes, I realised it was my Dad that had come here beside me. I leaned to my side and fell on top of his shoulder. My tears increased, and I knew that he would have a pretty good idea of what I was doing. His arm was around my waist and supported my body weight onto his own. He looked me in the eye and then said, “You know, you don’t have to do this.”
My voice was weak, but I managed to reply, “Oh yes, I do!”
He whispered back to me, “Okay then, we’re going to do it together.”
My crying had become worse, and I was wiping my eyes. I gave out a moan and lowered my head onto my Dad’s shoulder. We continued the course and passed the three-hundred metres point, so we were on the last straight to the finish line. I could see other athletes I knew well gathering and waiting on the finish line for me to complete the race.
About ten metres from the line my Dad released me so I could cross the finish by myself in lane five. As I passed the mark some sixty-five thousand spectators rose to their feet in a standing ovation. Many of them were apparently also in tears. The noise of the clapping and cheering was almost deafening. Looking around the stadium crowd, it was sunny, hot and very colourful. The yellows and oranges dotted around the spectators brought beauty to the games. Few of the spectators now remembered that Steve Lewis had won the semi-final in a time of 44.50 seconds. No-one who was in the Barcelona Olympics this day, and had watched it will ever forget my courage and determination. On the day that I pushed forward the Olympic spirit and my will to not become a DNF, which is a ‘Did Not Finish’.
My Dad took hold of me again, he smiled at me and gave me a tight hug as he said, “When you don’t give up son, you can never fail.”
We all are always our parent’s children. On the day of this race; my Dad was a father carrying his son, and I was a son that will always carry his father inside of his heart, for the rest of my life.