Friday, July 23, 2010

Wide Right (Part 1)

The following is a true story taken from an experience I had in high school. This is part 1 of a story I often share when I speak at high schools. I offer this glimpse into my life for those writers and non-writers alike who may be feeling the pains of discouragement.

"Bradford," coach yelled as he held up three fingers. I knew this moment was coming. I could see the clock ticking down 20 seconds, then 15, then the whistle stopping the clock at 9 seconds. Just enough time for me to run onto the field and do what I had practiced a hundred times. Three steps back, two to the side, wait for the snap, then run and kick. I should be able to do this in my sleep. After all, this was my life. This was who I was, the kicker for the JV football team. I was my brother's successor and the one who would eventually make varsity and then help take Arlington back to the state championship.

I jogged onto the field and chewed nervously on my tattered mouth piece. It was a cold night and I could see the stadium lights shining off the damp grass. I handed the black rubber tee to my holder who set it on the ground and tapped it twice for luck. I placed my right foot against the tee, took a deep breath and looked to the uprights a mere 24 yards away. It was a straight shot, an easy three points for the win--so I thought. Soon after I had counted my steps and set my feet the ball was snapped. I charged forward and swung my leg hard into the leather ball. I felt my left foot connect and instantly knew it was amiss. My plant foot was too close to the tee causing the ball to hit the inside of my foot as I kicked. The ball careened far to the right in an awkward horizontal spin missing its target by several yards. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the clock tick 3, 2, 1, 0.

The adrenaline raging through my body was not nearly enough to mask the pain, and frustration settling in my stomach. I had failed again and as I jogged back to the sideline I knew a thousand eyes were centered on me. I could sense a thousand expletives being thrown in my direction by a thousand people who were now plotting my destruction and where to hide my body. I was living another nightmare, another game lost because another kick was missed.

There is nothing that can prepare someone for the experience of changing in a locker room full of muscular teenaged boys, reeking of testosterone who want nothing more than to separate your limbs from your body. Who could blame them? They had offered up a sacrifice of sweat and blood to the football gods only to lose the game in the final seconds because some some puny kicker wearing peewee shoulder pads and a spotless uniform couldn't do the one thing he was there to do - kick the ball through the uprights.

When the final whistle had blown that year I walked off the playing field having missed more kicks than I had made. In fact, I had missed at least one kick in every game and three of our losses were a result of missed field goals and extra point attempts. Stating that my performance was a disapointment would have been a severe understatement likely to land one in jail for obstructing the truth. I had become the poster child of how to fold under pressure--the new standard for failure. I walked out the locker room for the last time that season with a decision to make. The season was over and the lines marking the field would soon fade with the coming months. Was I going to allow my horrid experience to be my last mark on the field eventually fading into time or, like a determined boxer not knowing when to quit, was I going to step back into the blood soaked ring and keep on fighting?

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