Everyday it’s back to the same old bench in the locker room, the same locker room, the same locker. This where it begins and ends.
All things center here. This is where the workouts get planned, the day discussed.
Success is forgotten here. Those who are champions are forgotten and are jus’ another member of the team.
Yet some still watch, wondering at him. He is the best.
Again the locker’s closed, slammed hard and locked. Double checked, making sure it’s locked.
He is you, and you turn and leave.
Out the door, like a Roman gladiator to the arena, you step into the spacious gymnasium. Everyone is fooling around, chasing each other and horse-playing.
Then a voice sounds, it commands, “Warm ups!”
Everyone, a well-regimented group of soldiers and like soldiers they come to attention, in a stiffened silence. Jumping-jacks, push ups, hurdlers, trunk twisters, all the same, daily.
You have memorized them by heart, because you are the ‘platoon leader’ of this ‘outfit,’ again this year – your last year.
Out to the football field at a trot, like everyday, showing those freshmen why champions are champions!
You do your daily dozen – your very own – working up a sweat, jus’ to sweat some more. Now you dash out hard a onto the hard rubber track to do twenty-five, 100 yard dashes, all of them under 12 seconds. But you do one in 13 seconds and you do one more to make up for it.
Now for the 220 yard dash, another twenty-five, all less than 23 seconds. You miss five of them, all over 23 seconds, and again you redo them.
Your heart wishes to burst home, but it won’t. And you want to sit down, but your will, or your pride won’t let you. You stand tall, while others sit. Now with a little rest, you loosen yourself ups by jogging an easy mile. Shake it off, the stiffening pain in the two stubs you call your leg.
Again to the 100-yard mark; the starting blocks. You set them, doing two for form, but now the real thing.
The coach pulls out of his pocket the starter-gun, he barks commands, “Runners to your marks, set and the gun sounds.
You have nine more to do.
The tenth one and you wish the gun were real and pointed at your head. Running 60-yards, hurting, but you must show why you’re the champion.
Everyone is leaving, but you jog and extra lap before heading in.
Through the door, the gladiator has won. The sweat on your back feels cold as you peel the shirt off, followed by your shorts and socks, then stuffed in a duffel bag to be washed.
Into the shower, where the hot water feels good, rising you clean after a good scrubbing. Now for a cold shower, where it becomes hard to breathe, but easier to move.
You dry off and get dressed.
You hurt all over, but never complain. You don’t complain – you’re the champion.
Off to the bus in slow, tight gait. Practice is over for today, it’s time to go home.
And after a long ride home, into your bedroom you go, tired, but you have yet to eat. So you do.
Now for bed, so tired that you don’t put on your P.J.’s after you have stripped. Off with your shoes and you know what to expect. The pain — your toes, all beaten and battered — they hurt and again you sit on your bed and cry jus’ like so many nights before.
But you don’t complain – you’re the champion.
Everyday is the same, except the last day of practice in the regular season, except this season, because it’s your last. You want to cry and you do…inside.
So down to the football field you trot one last time, but not for the practice, but rather jus’ to look, to see where you’ve been and to remember. There’s another pain — this one in your heart — because you must leave and not jus’ for the year, but forever.
What was it all for?
You’re the champion, the very best, but you feel bewildered, lost in unhappy thoughts. You must now let go of this part of your life, the biggest part…
It hurts, but you don’t complain because you are the champion and champions don’t complain. Besides, there is no-one who would listen.
So you hang your head low in sadness and cry. Yes — you jus’ start to cry.
It’s over, but you don’t complain, you’re the champion.