This week marks one year since I ventured two thousand miles westward with my teammates to Oahu for five days.
My teammates and I had been looking forward to this trip the whole summer. After all, for most of us, it was a commemoration of two or three years of service to a team that we all love so much. I couldn’t imagine spending five days with my favorite teammates in an exotic tropical locale… it felt like a delicious dream.
However, my personal expectations fell short. It all began on Thursday, the day before the Iolani Invitational on Oahu.
I was swimming with my friends in the ocean waters off of Waikiki Beach, soaking in the scenes of the urban Honolulu shore and the palm trees lining the thoroughfare that bordered the sandy beachfront. Honolulu was staggering, in a sense like a tropical Los Angeles. There was much vertical development, as well as chronic congestion and urbanization spreading northwards to the hillsides.
My friends were climbing over the barrier that separated the lagoon with the Pacific Ocean. I followed suit and tried to negotiate the mossy rocky barrier. My feet slipped on the slick green moss as I tried to push against the heavy current sweeping me back towards the shore. “Come on, Rohit!” my friends shouted. “I’m coming!” I replied back. I regained my grip on the barrier and pushed off into the ocean.
As I pushed off, I felt something prick my feet. The pain followed, and it felt as if I had shoved a hundred thumbtacks into the side of my left foot. Hurting, I floated back towards shore, swimming on my side. I turned my foot over to examine the damage. At first, I couldn’t fathom what I had just seen. It had look like someone had just jammed a black koosh-ball into my left foot. However, looking further, I realized that I had stepped on something when I had pushed off of the barrier… a porcupine… no… a sea urchin.
The pain was diabolical. I pulled out as many needles as I could by hand and proceeded to walk on my toes back to the hotel. Some of my teammates had suffered a similar fate, and we all sat together in the same room while our friends proceeded to try and tweezer out any other needles.
The needles were fairly deep in, and the pain wasn’t subsiding. We soaked our foots in baking trays of vinegar, hoping that the needles would disintegrate, neutralizing the pain. Although the soaking didn’t really help abate the pain a whole lot, just spending time with my teammates, knowing that all along they were their by my side making sure we were all okay was a heartwarming feeling.
Jake took all three of us – Anjali, Rebecca, and me to the hospital. After doing a bureaucratic dance and filling out a mound of paperwork, the doctor ushered Jake and me to a room. The doctors’ advice wasn’t much different from what we had been already doing – they made me soak my foot in a warm bowl of vinegar.
Hospital aside, my respect for Jake shot up that day because of what he did for me. He sat next to me and held my hand while I dealt with searing and throbbing pain in my foot. He took me to the hospital and took care of me, making sure that I was healthy and rested for tomorrow’s race. Though many members of Lynbrook’s Cross Country team would regularly rag on Jake for implementing harder workouts and not caring for his runners, I felt that he proved them wrong that day. Jake was there for me and my teammates.
After getting used to my new stride, the pain subsided somewhat. That night, in honor of tradition, we held a pasta feed next to the hotel pool. I silently ate my spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread while simultaneously visualizing the start of the race. I knew where I wanted to be, and where I wanted to finish. Tomorrow would come down to the execution.
I woke up early in the morning to assorted sirens and screeches of the Honolulu urban setting. Taking advantage of the time to myself, I took the elevator to the 38th floor and soaked in the sunrise dawning over the central business district of Honolulu and the adjoining suburbs. I took a brief swim in the pool to cool myself, and unfortunately, there was still a deep soreness in my left heel. I hobbled out of the pool and ate a light breakfast in preparation for the race.
The drive to Iolani Ranch was a long and arduous one, but like none other. We took the H-3 freeway to the Northeastern side of the island. The surroundings were a far cry from congested Honolulu. Here, the locals had adapted to a much more primitive lifestyle, living carefree from the urban influence trying to worm its way through the formidable mountain range that separated the two different cultures.
Our team was fighting an uphill battle, literally and figuratively. Since Lynbrook had participated three years prior, the course had changed drastically. The hosts had added two gruesome climbs midrace that would send chills down any runner’s spine. The dirt trail was laced with hazards in the form of creepers that would snag any unaware feet. The course trail was littered with grassy patches and cow excrement that would throw wrenches in everyone’s stride. After a brief survey of the quaint new course, I took a nap, neglecting the humid weather.
After a brief warmup, I was ready as I was ever going to be. The start setup was much different, with our teams in single-file at the start line. CLACK. I held my ground throughout the first 400m and tried to stay with the lead pack, since I wanted to medal. After navigating a few more tricky bends, we climbed up the first hills and hit the first mile at around 5:35. I was already exhausted, and was hanging on to the now thinning lead pack for dear life. My left heel screamed every time I landed on my port-side foot.
During the race, I had to adjust my stride and run on my toes to avoid applying pressure on my needled left heel. My strides were much more conservative, and my racing form never really materialized and gelled in during the course of the 3 mile race.
I couldn’t recount the rest of the race since it was all a blur. The race was a fleeting experience, lasting just over 17 minutes. I remember stumbling at the finish line, spent and exhausted. The tropical weather had drained me, and the hills and tricky terrain had decapitated what was left of my two legs. Upon exiting the chute, I hobbled towards our tent and didn’t even bother finding a place to sit down. I collapsed, letting my legs buckle underneath me.
Needless to say, I was disappointed with myself. The thought of the race stung – traveling in excess of two thousand miles just to run a mediocre race. I curled myself into a corner on the bus ride back, wishing the minutes away.
Looking back on the vacation as a whole, however, I feel that the journey was a success. I was exposed to a completely different culture, I bonded with my teammates, and I was presented with the opportunity of the lifetime.
Such was my grief. My sorrow didn’t stem from running a disappointing race, nor did it stem from injuring myself so careless the day before an important meet. I had placed too much emphasis on the race, and in turn I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I should have.
Following Hawaii, I loosened myself a bit and opened myself to new things. Hawaii taught me that failure hurts. However, Hawaii also taught me how to rebound and learn from my mistakes, but more importantly that I should invest time to cherish life’s joys as well.