There are few places I would rather be on February 14 than at the track with the athletes of Vermont I came to love and know; the team who adopted me; and the random supportive people who smile and tell me before a race “you can do this.”
Vermont is a small state. I do not need someone from a large state like California to show me just how small. She is a cold state. I do not need a Texan to feel for me just how cold. Her people are strong people. Hurricane Irene tested this strength.
After the devastation of Irene, Vermont people united under the banner of Vermont strong. Her people are stronger and tighter than ever and her athletes bond with the stories they lived. The truth is, you know you are a senior in Vermont when you can look at any athlete around you and know his or her name even if you have never had a conversation with them in life. It goes further.
The team which adopted me, I love. I live in a position of opportunity. School choice enables me to learn most efficiently but it also allows me to share the joy of a sport with many teams.
It has always been the tradition that the underclassmen honor the seniors in a sport. In cross country I received a five gallon bucket of strawberry gelatin. Let’s be honest. Only two freshmen boys could come up with a gift like that, but only two brothers could obliterate it with rifles.
My winter track team bestowed upon me the same love and affection as my cross country track team with posters that said, “Our Kathryn runs, jumps and sprints further, faster, higher than YOU.”
This is the love and innocent pride of a team. These Vermont teams take someone in for three months and adopt them as their own, bonded under the school colors of yellow and green.
Finally, as supportive as Vermont athletes are of one another so are the parents of those athletes.
The pole weighed in my hands like a rod of steel. Questions pounded my mind. What if i don’t clear it? What if the pole doesn’t bend? What if I plant late? Spectators watch for me to take the first lunge of faith on the runway. Quietly, one person says, “you can do this.” When I lack faith in myself, a parent of a child that i may have perhaps befriended tells me, “we believe in you as you believed in my child.”
The point at which that realization is known is the point at which the results don’t matter. Yes, that bar was set at the state record height. No, I missed all three attempts.
But the beauty of the sport here is that once my short lived disappointment is over, I can go over and watch my teammate set a state record in the shot put. I can jump on her and scream with her for excitement. I can tell an athlete from another team who has just been disqualified, “hey it happened to me.” I can rejoice with those who are rejoicing and struggle with those who struggle.
Because at the end of the day, teams huddle close to each other at nine o’ clock at night in negative temperatures for the award ceremony and that medal which you proudly wear around your neck is not worn with pride because you are better than everyone else, but because every person is cheering for the sportsmanship you showed on the track, the support you gave to them, and team which you represent.
Sportsmanship and support are the things people don’t forget and in small state VT it better be a good memory because these strong people will tell those stories for years to come. I am all state in a small state.