Bad things happen in relay races: false starts, lane violations, dropped batons. One misstep can disqualify a team and ruin a season. You’re only as good as your next handoff.
That’s why I was a nervous wreck at the state high-school track and field championships last weekend in Tacoma. My daughter Brianne, a Marysville-Pilchuck senior, reached the Class 3A state finals in the 1,600-meter relay. Our track drama had several layers. Last year Brianne fractured her ankle in an auto accident a week before state, ending her season. Two weeks earlier her 1,600 relay had clocked the fastest time in the state.
Brianne went to state as a spectator. M-P’s 1,600 relay failed to reach the finals. Welcome to the relay roller coaster.
Our daughter faced months of physical and emotional healing. But I knew my kid would bounce back. I saw her toughness in the 2013 district meet, hobbling on a broken ankle. Doctors had misdiagnosed the injury and cleared her to run. She limped through the 400 meters and finished last. Barely able to walk, she was pulled from the 1,600 relay team, which qualified for state with a backup runner.
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After her disappointing 400, Brianne sought out the fourth-place finisher, a girl from a rival school. This senior had missed qualifying for state by fractions of a second. Brianne put her arm around her and walked with her on the infield. Watching from the stands I thought, “That’s my girl.”
Weeks later, her foot pain still raged. We returned to the clinic for an MRI, which revealed a hairline fracture. Brianne tackled her rehabilitation with the same tenacity she showed during track season. Healing became a full-time job. By December, she was doing light running. By March, she was pain-free.
Brianne peaked the last three weeks of the 2014 season. She qualified for state in the 400 and two relays. Her times were dropping. The 1,600 relay was poised to win a state championship.
Then our phone rang Friday night.
It was Brianne calling from the team hotel in Tacoma. Her foot hurts, but not the one injured in the auto accident. She doesn’t know if she can run in the 1,600 relay final. I can’t believe it. Not again. I feel like throwing up.
The next morning she sends my wife a text: Don’t forget my prom dress (M-P’s prom is scheduled that night in Seattle). No mention of running.
We arrive at Mount Tahoma Stadium in the afternoon. Brianne is warming up. Good sign. She gets in her crouch position in Lane 5, ready to go. Brianne’s start is flawless and she flies around the first turn. The rest of the race is a blur. M-P finishes fourth, shaving two seconds off its best time. We can finally exhale.
Brianne and her teammates receive medals and pose for photos on the award podium. Then they sprint for the exit. Their prom dates are waiting.
My girl had a great finish.
Jeff King is a sports page designer for The Seattle Times, where he has worked for 19 years. He and his family live in Marysville.
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