It had been a year since I had seen the face of the track. Throughout the year, I had struggled to escape from the routine I was entangled in, but to no avail. Now that life had offered me a window in the form of a cancelled meeting, I had some time to spare for myself, to breathe and to relax. As usual, on the way home, I drove past the Balewadi stadium. My head turned involuntarily, as it did everyday, to catch a glimpse of the shining red of the synthetic warm-up track in contrast with the lush green of the grassy field it encircled.
I felt a hollow sense of sorrow on the inside, as I remembered the victories, losses and the lessons learnt in that stadium. The memories of hard work rewarded and the high expectations of my coaches before I quit the track for good, choosing academics over athletics, brought back the constantly nagging feeling of guilt. I had taken so much from the sport: my competitive instincts, the discipline that ruled my life, the drive for constantly achieving new goals, sticking to schedules, and of course my penchant for maintaining healthy habits and a fitness regime. It had taught me to be strong enough to get up and fight after every fall.
Did I want to make a comeback? That was a question I couldn’t bring myself to answer. I was simply unable to gauge my urge to return to the sport. When I reached home, instead of flinging my bag onto my bed and lounging on the sofa in front of the TV, I changed into my workout clothes and put on a pair of old track shoes. I sat back in the car to drive towards the stadium, feeling a bit apprehensive. The music from the car radio, though racy, seemed too slow in comparison to the nervous tapping of my fingers on the driving wheel. On reaching the stadium, I hurriedly parked the car and gave myself a minute to reconsider walking on to the track, to the curious glances of other people. What if someone recognized me? They’d definitely sneer at my thoughts of getting back on the track after this big a gap in workout … I panicked. I could almost feel my heart thumping away madly, as if pleading me to turn back as I reached the track, near the 100 m start. “Stop fretting,” a small voice in my head said calmly, “Just look at the track! Hasn’t changed a bit since we saw it last, ehh?”
The synthetic track looked a dusty red. Sand from the long jump pit seemed to have lodged itself into the crevices between the track and the cement bordering of the pit, gleaming lazily in the setting sun. I bent low and touched it, my fingers grazing the dust and rubber on the track. I straightened up, touched my forehead in a salutation to Mother Earth, and stepped onto the track to begin a brisk walk. One step succeeded the other almost involuntarily. Very soon, my feet had gathered momentum of their own accord and I was jogging. I glanced up at the open sky and inhaled deeply in the fresh air. My lungs stung, and that sweet pain brought back memories of those early morning runs during winter. “See? You could never have stayed away from the track. Here, we belong …” that tiny voice in my head whispered. My strides lengthened and I gathered speed, as if the last one year of inactivity had merely shrunk into nothingness. The sense of foreboding and insecurity had vanished.
I felt as if a thousand hands were on my back, goading me to speed up. I swiftly obeyed, running faster, leaving all my worries and tensions strewn behind me. I was in a mode wherein I was immune to all misgivings and insecurity; at this speed, they barely fluttered past in a blur. “They can’t catch up with us now. Run!”, I heard my mind cheering for me to race ahead. As I sped up further into a sprint towards the 400 m finishing line, I felt elated, my heart racing with the wind. That moment brought back visions from the past, of me returning from tournaments crestfallen and restarting again from scratch, encouraged to work harder. That moment and those visions reinstated my belief that I could conquer my fears, that there was nothing that was impossible if you worked on it. Funny how a comeback to the track had given me so much hope for my mundane everyday life! My heart stretched its wings, tested the wind, and soared into the exhilarating skies of unadulterated positivity.