Golden Girl

for RB

Breathe and stride…Breathe and stride…Breathe and stride…

The wind is ruffling the leaves on the trees as I begin to gather pace. It feels so good, after the months of darkness, to be out in the open. To smell Spring,  freshly mown grass and apple blossom, as I run. My legs are stiff from months of dis-use, but now as I turn down the familiar path that leads to the river, I can feel them lengthen and stretch. They were made for this. I was made for this. For this moment  when body, muscle, mind, lungs flow into one, so there is no effort, no thought, just a unity with the ground, water and sky. This is what I am,  this is what I do, this is what counts.

Breathe and…

I was twelve the year I learnt to run, or rather that running was my thing, surprising myself by coming first in every race on Sports Day. As the morning wore on, everyone got behind me Jill-ee-an, Jill-ee-an.  I’d never been so popular. Even though Mum and Dad missed it, as usual, telling them later was nearly as good. I pestered them till they let me join the athletics club. They thought it was a fad, and perhaps it would have been. But that was a miserable winter.  Running in rain, wind and even snow, was preferable to nights sitting on the sofa in between their silent enmity. I trained, and trained, and trained. Weekends were full of early starts and long drives to muddy cross country races. My parents never watched, never saw me come 500th, 200th, 50th, and at last my crowning glory, 5th. But Alan Forster did.

…stride and…

Kindly Alan Forster -all smiley eyes and crinkly hair – the coach we all wanted. The one who got girls into the national squad, whose proteges went to World Championships and even, once, to the Olympics. He saw what I could do, and promised I would do more. You’ll be another Kelly, he said, our very own golden girl. And I believed him. Right around the time Dad left, I started a strict diet of protein and carbs, and Alan’s special supplements. I went out every day at 5am, and abandoned the idea of a social life. Mum cried a lot, but I didn’t miss Dad much.  Alan Forster was much nicer anyway. Besides, I had races to win.

…breathe and…

I reached the local championships. The regionals. The nationals. I won, I won, I won. The local paper called me “Golden Jill”. Olympic qualification beckoned. And then I hit a slump. A bad cold meant I lost the only race Dad ever watched. A miscalculation next time saw me come in third. I trained harder, but my times got worse. The season began to slip away till one day Alan came up with a solution. Every champion needs a pick me up, he said. It’s not illegal, it’ll just tide you through. Whatever it was, it did the trick. I made the squad. Mum was so proud she let Dad come round to celebrate.They drank champagne and got all giggly. I had to be up early, so I left them to it.

…stride and…

Now I ran three times a day. I ate constantly but the hunger never left. I slept early, rose early, my muscles sore. I looked at the other girls’ times and I need to do more. I didn’t care about running, it was winning that counted, the crowd calling my name – Jill-ee-an, Jill-ee-an. I pushed and pushed myself, but my times stayed static. I did fartlek, Kenyan hills, speed trials. Nothing helped. Try this, said Alan, It will do you good. The devil has a familiar face and sups with a long spoon – THG mixed with modafinil. I supped with him. I took what he offered because I wanted to win. When he told me I couldn’t be caught, I believed him. I hit my personal best again, and again, and again.

…breathe and…

A few drops of urine. The difference between triumph and disgrace. Sponsors queuing up and rapidly dropping you. The crowd shouting your name and the changing room blanking you. The minute the news broke, Alan left, but I had nowhere to run. After the press, and loss of friendship, all there was was a room at Mum’s. Dad came back to a  house  no longer silent, but full of whispered concern. I sat in my room, looking at the wall. They took me to the doctor. Depression, she said, as she prescribed the cures of the modern age –  therapy and Citalopram. I sat silently through the first, and the second made my head fuzzy. My body sagged,  my legs became flabby with disuse.

…stride and…

It was a cold winter. The snow no longer beckoned me. I couldn’t imagine running in the rain. Spring came slowly, blue skies, chilly air, an occasional bud. Still, my room seemed the safest place to be.  Until this morning when  I turned on the TV to see the crowds at Greenwich queuing for their moment to run. The camera panned over bodies throwing themselves into motion, faces strained with effort, legs stampeding. A memory stirred. I can do this. I went to the cupboard and got out my kit.

…breathe

The sun sparkles on the water. A swan glides by. I was born for this. My body was made for this.

There is nothing to do but run

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9 thoughts on “Golden Girl

  1. Very nice! You really did a fantastic job showing how these things play on weakness and dreams and the need for approval, and begin to slowly, slowly, invade into a life — eventually destroying that which it was meant to help. This is one of my favorites of yours, really well-written, and the end is just perfect. Well done.

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  2. Virginia, that was gorgeous. So well written, so engrossing. I felt so sorry for her, being taken in by drugs, taken in by the coach and the crowds, soaking up the love she should have been getting at home. And the description of the writing, the way you paced it, perfect.

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  3. Thanks folks. It has been pointed out to me (rightly) that I have rushed it, she would have taken longer to be seduced by the drugs and the local coach may not have been the person to do it. (I like the idea of him leaving their club and becoming her coach perhaps)

    So I'd work that in a bit more. But glad you liked it. I've been thinking about this one for a while, inspired by a fellow writer and amazing runner.

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  4. A perfect description of how insidiously these things happen, and how often talented people with ambition are betrayed by those they trust.

    I take the point that it would actually happen much more slowly, but given the 1,000 word constraint of #FridayFlash there's no realistic way this could be shown, or at least not without risking the loss of the immediacy that makes the story so compelling.

    So glad Jill eventually finds herself and her talent again 🙂

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  5. Hi, Virginia, nice to meet you. This is beautifully written, a pleasure to read. The contrast between her running and her family life and the flow of events is superb.

    This is a gem of a story.

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  6. Great piece about seduction and passion! I don't know about the speed at which her coach manipulates her being too fast. It seems you set her up at a particularly vulnerable moment, when her father left, and she may have been desperate enough to turn a blind eye to it.

    Well done!

    CD

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  7. I like how you show her running in so many ways…running to and from…being seduced and trying to break free. The darkness, pain, and will to move forward. This was a heartfelt write and I enjoyed reading it, because there was an emotional truth beneath it all.

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  8. I enjoyed the read.

    What you did in a flash is hard, to take many events over time and tell them but still keep the reader a part of the experience, rather than a listener to a tale.

    You won this one.

    Like

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