Sprinting is tough but rewarding

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LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Picture this: a stadium is filled with thousands of screaming spectators. You're positioned at the starting line for what is going to be the biggest race of your life.

Deep inside, your heart is racing. You can't think straight, you're beginning to second-guess yourself and you would like nothing more than to pack your bags and head home.

The starter has the gun ready, and has called you to your mark - the race is about to begin. You remember last week's practice, thinking to yourself "pick up your knees" and "drive out." And at the same time, you're trying to tame the butterflies that are going crazy in your stomach.

"Set!" says the starter, and then all of a sudden, as you're waiting for the gun to go off, the craziest thing happens. You feel a sudden stillness. A sense of calmness and serenity among the rest of this organized chaos.

The gun goes off and like clockwork you shoot out of your starting blocks with a force that could move mountains. Around you, the sounds of the spectators are substituted with the pattering of track spikes and the panting of a nearby opponent as you search for track and field's holy grail - the finish line.

Within seconds, meters get shorter and shorter, and out of the corners of your eyes you scan the lanes, hoping to see nothing but empty space. The end is in sight. You begin your last push to victory, and with everything you have left, you thrust yourself through the line. Victory is yours.

I have been running track now for many years, and without a doubt I can say that track and field is one of the hardest sports for a high school athlete.

I'm often asked, "Hartzell, what would make you want to come to practice and just run?"

I mean, for most sports, running is used as a means of discipline or consequence.

But in all honesty, track and field is more than just laps around the track or jumping into a sand pit.

Since I started running track, I have found new meanings to words such as focus, will, desire and sacrifice. Sure, the same can be said about other sports, but track is still unique. It is you versus the world.

With every practice, you strive to be the best, knowing that only you can make yourself better.

A favorite quote from one of my coaches is, "Excuses are monuments of incompetence," and as much as it pains me on some days to say, he is completely correct.

In track, responsibility lies solely on your shoulders, waiting for you to make the next move - no excuses.

I was recently given the opportunity to compete at the AAU Junior Olympic Games at Drake University, an amazing experience. Entering the stadium I couldn't help but be in awe of the packed stadium and electric atmosphere. I also couldn't help but think back to the road it took to reach this point. I remembered my middle school days of running on gravel tracks and my practices now that may not end until the sun goes down.

As much as I enjoy other sports, I couldn't help but think that it doesn't get any better that this.

Sure, the preparation is hard and the work is strenuous, but the feeling you get when you know that you just pushed yourself to the limit is unexplainable.

I don't want to put down any other sport because their effects can be just as inspiring and life-changing, but for me, I don't need shoulder pads to make a big hit. Through hard work and determination, I choose to smash the record boards instead.

Hartzell Gray is a senior at Lee's Summit West High School in Lee's Summit, Missouri. He is a 2009 Missouri All-State runner, and he competes in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and 4x200m relay.
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