BANG! All at once, the eight sprinters spring out of the starting blocks into a strong head wind. With their heads low and knees driving forward, they accelerate around the curve. My heart pounds while I stand planted in the exchange zone blocking out the fierce roar of the crowd. I spot Alice nearing the end of her 100 meters ahead of the pack. I shift my weight back and forth on my balls of my feet. My head dips below my shoulder, and my eyes stay fixed on her cycling feet. It’s time. Adrenaline surges through my body driving one knee forward and the other follows. My elbows swing back and forth until Alice calls, “STICK!”
Without delay, I throw my arm back, palm flat. Alice thrusts the baton into my left hand. I tighten my grip around the baton and dig my spikes into the track. The cheers of my parents, teammates, and coaches are all around me. My body shifts gears. All I feel is the wind carrying me, and to my satisfaction I do not feel the presence of my other competitors catching up with me.
Olivia is less then 20 meters before me, so she pushes her body forward into a sprint. All I can think about is how last year she and I were disqualified at the State Championship at this very point in the race for failing to handoff the baton in the allotted exchange zone.
“Trust your training,” I tell myself, “We’ve got this.”
We are arm’s length apart. I yell “STICK!” She swings her arm back, and I plant the baton in the center of her right hand. I open my mouth to shout encouragement, but my wide smile will not allow my voice to carry very far. I run across the field to meet her on the other side of the track, and my eyes witness the gap stretching between her and the other runners. I reach the 300 meter mark just in time to see Olivia and Hannah execute their hand-off perfectly. A competitor is on Hannah’s heels, but Hannah accelerates.
Alice, Olivia, and I meet Hannah as she crosses the finish line inches in front of our most forceful competitor. With arms outstretched, we pull each other closely and celebrate our first place victory.