Dana Ford here. I'll start off by introducing myself as a new intern for The Courier and a journalism student and track athlete at The University of Findlay. Conveniently for this blog, I'm also a former OHSAA state contender at the 2005 Track and Field Championships.
Yes, that's right. Four years ago around this time, I was in the shoes of many anxious high school track athletes preparing to leave a hopeful trail of burning rubber and smoke in the air at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium from a long, hard and successful season.
However, competing in Division III for Cory-Rawson as only a freshman, it didn't seem much more than "just another meet" to me because I had no idea what to expect.
Looking back, I wish I had known better. Even today, I wish I could have soaked in that moment for all it was worth.
Freshman year of 2005, my legs were fresh and the talent came easy. For the only time in my track career, my legs were pain-free. I had no injuries, and my young body could fly through the air without much effort at all.
To be honest, I had no idea how fast I was. I had no idea who my competitors were, and I had no awareness of stats of other girls in comparison to mine. The only thing I knew is I came in first almost every time. No one was ever in front of me, and I had to keep it that way.
For Pete's sake I didn't have any clue what I was doing! I just RAN, because Coach Meyer told me to!
Then came BVC. What the heck did BVC stand for anyway? I didn't know. I just knew I had to run faster than everyone else and beat my own personal best times. Then came districts, and I advanced to regionals in the 100 and with my team in the 4x1.
All week at school, everyone kept asking me if I was hoping to make it to state. I replied with confusion.
"Um, yeah duh. Where else would I go after regionals?"
Now don't get me wrong, I was never full of pride or arrogance. However, it was simply I had NO clue as to how great of a thing it was to advance to the State Championships. In fact, I always looked at myself as an underdog and each race as potential for someone to come close to catching me. I was always nervous, always unsure.
But, sure enough, that afternoon I advanced to state in both the 100 and 4x1 with as much ease as it always took me.
The entire stands of Cory-Rawson fans were overwhelmed with a craziness of which I was sort of embarrassed. Everyone came at me with screaming mouths and arms open wide as tears ran down some faces and smiles plastered to others. I had no idea how to react.
"What in the heck is this big deal?" I thought. "No one was ever this excited for any other race I ran!"
I was tired and ready for this last track meet to be over with. "At least I got some pretty sweet medals," I thought.
Before going home with my No.1 fans (my family), Courier sports writer Jamie Baker called me over for a quick interview. Through my confusion, I turned on a fake enthusiasm to try and match everyone else's. No wonder he didn't use that interview in the newspaper. I couldn't help it though, I didn't know why this meet in particular was greater than any other ones. I was in no way aware of what this "last meet" could ever possibly mean to me.
Then, the day came and the team traveled down to Columbus. It was just another meet I had to prepare for, except the drive was inconvenient. I think I read through every magazine and drained the battery of my iPod before we even arrived. That night, we all stayed in a hotel, and the next morning we drove to the stadium.
As I stepped out of the school van, too many thoughts ran through my head:
"Ugh, it's so hot today ... Hey look, some t-shirts! Oh but they are pretty expensive for only saying 'state' on them. Psh. Nevermind that ... Wow this meet costs a lot of money to get in. Good thing I get a stamp for being a runner. Too bad for mom and dad ... Gosh it's sooo hot today ... I hope we brought our tent. Nope. We didn't. ... AGH! IT'S SO FREAKIN HOT!!"
Yes, too many of these random thoughts filled my mind and replaced the thought of my performance.
However, as soon as our team passed the ticket booth and Jesse Owens Stadium was at last visible, those thoughts were quickly cleared by a breathtaking view of a track runner's heaven. My stomach filled with butteflies. Thousands of people dotted a tower of stadium bleachers on both sides of a dusty red all-weather track. It was beautiful. I supposed it had to be worth a long drive and a hot run beneath the blazing sun.
Still, I was just ready to run and get it over with.
As I prepared for prelims, I got my usual nervousness, but this time the pressure was really on. Coach kept telling me all these girls here were as fast as me. Considering I always had such an uncertainty about winning in the first place, I started getting nervous about losing in front of such a huge crowd. However, sure enough, I got fourth place and qualified for finals.
Yet I didn't know what this meant. I just knew I got beat by three other girls, and I was upset. Tears came quickly down my face, and coach could tell I wasn't happy with the performance.
"Dana, you made state finals! This is great news!" he said.
Even though I still wasn't happy, and still wasn't sure what all this meant, I shrugged with an "Ugh alright, whatever." We all traveled back to the hotel to stay one more night before finals the next day.
The big day had arrived. My family came to the hotel that morning to greet me with balloons and teddy bears and hugs and kisses. None of this stuff was appealing to me for I still had no idea why this meet was such a huge deal.
My thoughts: "Those girls out there are so fast. I thought I was the fastest in Ohio, why didn't I win yesterday? I just don't think I can beat them today."
I was defeated before I arrived at the track.
That afternoon, I warmed up in the blistering sun once again and wore myself out until I finished with an 8th place in the 100. As I crossed the finish line, tears ran down my face, and anger swelled in my heart. I was not happy with my final performance I made at Jesse Owens Stadium.
I stood atop a podium where medals were placed around our necks, and the only thing I could think of was how I finally got beat and how awful it felt. My grandma yelled at me from across the track to get an up close photograph of me and another girl standing together with our medals, and I shied away from the camera in shame that I had done such a terrible job.
The girl beside me put her arm around my shoulder and told me one thing:
"Girl, you made it on this podium as a freshman. That means you are dang good. Now, why you cryin?"
Those were the words that made me smile at the camera that day. That was the moment I finally realized what it meant to be part of the State Championships. It measured my ultimate success. It meant the end of the road, the end of a successful journey. It was my reward.
And after my moment of fame was over, in front of thousands of watchful fans at a place of historical value and meaningful performances, I stepped down from the podium to never return again.
I left Jesse Owens with an 8th place, and I had no idea it would be the most I would ever be able to experience/accomplish for my remaining high school track career. For those remaining three years, I battled numerous, recurring injuries I still struggle with to this day. I was never able to make it back to the top.
What drives me to take care of my body and do the best I can running at the University of Findlay is the thought of that day on the podium at Jesse Owens Stadium. After four years of my career, I realized what a priviledge it was to run down there.
Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. While I was worrying how my time looked and how I placed, I should have been breathing it in, doing what I do best, and being thankful that I accomplished so much and made it that far.
That day was a blessing to me, one of the greatest moments of my life. For all those running, let it be a blessing to you. Take it all in, because you have no idea what the future holds.