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By Colleen Messina
1 Ten, nine, eight...Jason's muscles tensed, and he forced himself to look straight ahead to assess his course. Memories of other disastrous sports events tried to break his concentration, but he shut out most thoughts as quickly as they came.
2 Jason had spent his whole fifteen years trying to find one sport he could enjoy. He was only five when his father eagerly escorted him to his first tee ball game. Jason could still remember the group of nervous kindergarteners doing stretching exercises on the prickly lawn behind the school. All the kids dreamed of eating icy, raspberry popsicles after the game on that hot April day. Jason also dreamed of making his father proud of him.
3 His dad was a muscular man whose awesome trophy collection made the shelves groan under their weight in the den. He cheered hoarsely as Jason came up to bat, even though he sounded like a wounded moose. Whack! Jason hit the ball, and it shot like a missile to a terrified, bespeckled kid at second base. The shocked parents even managed a smattering of applause. No one expected timid, stumbling Jason to hit the ball like that!
4 Jason's course of action seemed straightforward, but the moment of victory turned into a nightmare. He ran as fast as he could. He pumped his skinny legs hard until he had a collision with the boy at THIRD BASE! The game fell apart as both teams realized that Jason had gone to the wrong base. Jason had never been so embarrassed in his young life, and the memory made his cheeks burn. Even his dad had laughed at him! Jason never played baseball again, even when his father bribed him with a whole box of popsicles.
5 Jason pushed the sad memory out of his mind again as he readied himself for his run. An icy wind slapped his face with fury. Seven, six, five...Jason bent over, ready to spring. His coach, a pithy, efficient man who only spoke when he had to, said that the takeoff from the starting gate was the most important part of the race. The coach's advice turned out to be invaluable because Jason's starts were usually so strong that even the sound of T.V. helicopters overhead didn't distract him. So why did Jason keep going over past failures?
6 Other sports memories tried to overpower Jason's focus as he listened to the countdown. After the baseball fiasco, Jason tried basketball. He tried every position on the team, and even recorded the team's statistics, but he just wasn't coordinated. He was short, and he couldn't shoot too well. One day the team captain began to accost him and started to postulate that Jason didn't belong on the team. Jason tried to talk to his father about the situation, but his dad just gave him a blank stare. After that, Jason never tried out for basketball again. Jason willed his wandering mind back to the countdown. Four, three, two...Jason's blood pounded in his temples and he felt he was about to burst from the tension of waiting.
7 ONE! Go! Jason shot out of the gate like a human bullet. His red, nylon racing suit was like a streak of flame against the white snow. The rhythm of the race came easily to him, and he felt pure exhilaration as he carved the edges of his skis cleanly into the powder. Soon he created a trail of sharp blue ridges around the slender, metal poles, or "gates," of the slalom course.
8 The course took less than two minutes to finish, but for Jason it was two minutes of pure speed, especially since he had used special wax as a lubricant for his skis. He went around each gate with precision, gracefully curving around the pole. Sometimes, he cut his turn so close that his forearm hit the red poles with a smack, making the gates snap over for a second. He knew the burst of pain meant the glory of pure speed. His coach told him to try for pain and glory, pain and glory, all the way down the slope. His legs and lungs burned. The cold wind seemed to exacerbate the fiery sensation as he breathed hard. All he could see was blinding, white snow and the blur of peripheral evergreens.
9 Jason crossed the finish line in a cold spray of ice and the warm smell of pine. He hoped his time was under a minute and 40 seconds. Suddenly, a gatekeeper ran over to the judge. His job was to be sure all the racers went around every gate on the course.
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