Chapter 1 1
Once in every lifetime, they say, if everything goes just right—if you eat just the right combination of foods, if you get just the right amount of sleep, if you’ve worked hard and given absolutely everything of yourself—it can happen. You can do it. You can close your hand around the dream you’ve been chasing your whole life.
You can catch the lightning.
It’s not just a myth. I’ve seen it. I watched in 2009 as Usain Bolt set the 100-meter world record—9.58 seconds. Granted, I was only a baby, plopped in front of the TV. But I like to think experiences, even if we don’t remember them, leave little seeds in us.
For years I’ve been nurturing this seed, shaping the weather of my life so that, under the brightest lights, it’ll activate and burst up through the soil.
Today feels like the day.
I, Grant Falloon, am about to make history.
It’s the Penn Relays. Biggest track meet of the year. The bleachers are packed beneath the triangular flags atop Franklin Field. I’m in lane four. I shake my legs. Roll my neck. On the announcer’s cue, I kneel and press my spikes into the blocks.
“Runners on your marks.”
I close my eyes. My mind is a glowing computer screen. One by one I drag the cluttered files into the trash. Everything must go. Thoughts are heavy. I need to be light. I need to be fast. The boys’ record (U-13) is 10.73 seconds.
My head drops. My hips lift.
I explode out of the blocks, head down.
I drive my legs. Elbows in. Fingers fully extended.
It’s happening. I feel myself pulling ahead. Not only ahead of the pack but also—this is hard to explain—of myself. Reaching top speed, I feel myself edging out of the me-shaped outline I was born into.
Just a half step.
And it’s the best feeling in the world.
I’m feeling so invincible that, twenty meters from the line, I forget the number one rule of sprinting. KEEP. YOUR. EYES. ON. THE. PRIZE.
I peek into the crowd. My family’s in section 102. There’s Mom: fierce, wild-eyed, yelling, “Goooooo!” Dad’s peeking between his fingers like he’s watching a horror movie. Franny’s holding his phone up, filming.
That’s all it takes. A fraction of a second. A glance. And my toe catches. It’s like I’ve tripped on an invisible root. Suddenly I’m stumbling. Flailing. Arms wheeling.
I’m so close!
I spill forward, arms extended Superman style. The finish line is flying toward me. All I have to do is wait, and it’s going to cross me.
But then gravity.
My chest hits first. I bounce. My hips crash down. My legs fly up. My chin scrapes along the track one, two, three times.
I skid, arms outstretched.
I lie facedown on the track, a literal inch from the finish line. It’s eerily silent, probably because all ten thousand people have their hands over their mouths.
I can’t look. If I look, then it’s real. What if I just lie here for a while? What if I just lie here till the stadium empties? Then I can tiptoe home and put a Band-Aid on my bleeding chin, and it’ll be like nothing happened.
Or, just to be safe, I’ll lie here till school lets out and everyone forgets. I’ll lie here till the birds fly south, till the autumn leaves twirl down on top of me.
I’ll lie here till the whole human race dies out and the grass pushes up through the track and the squirrels build a new civilization in the ruins.