A little girl runs fast across the parking lot, vibrant red sneakers slapping the rough pavement. Her sparkling purple barrette, nearly hidden among a shock of black hair, bobs up and down in time with each resilient step. A stream of bubbling laughter trails behind her. She closes her eyes and drinks in the rushing wind that to her sounds exactly like a conch shell pressed tight to her ear. Her small arms stretch the very widest they can go, and she pretends they’re her wings. In the thrill of the moment, she doesn’t notice a slight depression in the asphalt ahead—so insignificant that no grown-up would pay it mind, but the perfect size for a small, five-year-old’s shoe. Her toe catches, and as if in slow motion, the barrette falls from its precarious position atop her head. Her small body tumbles forward, and she opens her eyes to the sight of hard ground only a few inches from her face
I stand at the back of the runway, heart pounding as I grasp the pole.
Attempting to maintain composure, I launch myself towards the pit. Instantly, everything else disappears but myself, the pole, and the obstacle ahead. My body develops a rhythm—pound, breathe, pound, breathe. My mind races in the last panic before the jump, thoughts and fears threading swiftly in and out of each other. But my body knows its job. My muscles move as the pole slides into place: a perfect plant. Quads and triceps strain as I pull myself off the ground and begin my ascent. My legs grasp the air and I watch my sneakers rise higher and higher above me. I’m flying, suspended amidst a rush of pumping adrenaline, ripping air, and perfect cerulean sky. Suddenly, reality sets back in. Self-doubt paralyzes me as my eyes fall from the cloudless blue and I see the crossbar taunting me from below, just beneath my toes. Caught in a split-second flash of self-doubt, I wince as my shoes hit the crossbar from above, forcing it to the ground.
The impact is jarring—her soft, unblemished skin meets the jagged gravel in one disconcerting moment. Her hands sting as they never have before. She feels her lips turning downward, preparing to release the instinctual wail that inevitably follows the collision. For the first time, she feels a sense of failure; she has been grounded, and the ordeal plays again and again in her mind, this new experience engraved in her memory.
The clattering sound of the falling crossbar rings in my ears as I rise from the mat, collect my pole and leave the runway. The sting of failure fills my eyes with tears, but I blink them back, biting hard on my lip. Where had the sudden insecurity come from, this mistrust of myself to make it over the bar?
Still in shock, the little girl whimpers from her spot on the ground. Looking around and noticing that nobody is nearby to help her, she realizes she must fend for herself. A frown still plastered on her face, she carefully wipes the dust off her pants and the tears from her eyes. After a few seconds, she picks herself up. She stands, hands on hips, smiling wide at her first taste of accomplishment, and takes off running, fear dissipating in her wake.
I stand on the runway once more with fresh resolve, palms sweaty as they grip the pole. I begin my sprint, gaining speed and finally thrusting myself into the air with renewed energy. As the wind whistles through my hair and fills my ears, I glance up at the clear blue sky and feel the strain of my muscles as I pull myself off the ground. My feet climb higher into the air and hands release the pole. I don’t look down. My eyes rest at a spot just below the sun. I do not even glance at the crossbar until I hit the mat on the other side and stare up at the height I have just conquered. I jump up, triumphant, placing my hands on my hips with a knowing, wide smile that is all too familiar.
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