I was never a cheerleader. I was friends with the cheerleaders. My closet had its own panoply of pleated skirts (out of much better fabric than polyester) and I never once wanted to honestly own a pair of pom-poms. Spirit sticks were about the only thing I thought were cool— they were usually coated in glitter.
I was, however, a mascot. In fact, my history of becoming a mascot started when I lived in Louisiana and no one wanted to be the gator. Sure, the football team was awful and we got massacred, but for a few hours once I week, I became invisible.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” Oscar Wilde
At right around 3 feet tall, I wore the 6ft costume and I loved it. The fabric gathered from my hips and down, thanks to my vertical challenges of being in Elementary school. Like most kids, I was awkward and aware I made a fool of myself on a regular basis (never shy… but definitely aware). Yet the moment the giant gator head slid over mine and the the view from the snout showed the stadium filled with cajuns, magic happened. I cheered; I rallied; and I danced my little 3rd grade bum off. It. Was. Awesome!
This past weekend, I didn’t wear the mask. And though I didn’t don a pleated skirt, I definitely became a cheerleader. First time for everything, right? I wore a huge smile and cheered for the home-team, if you will. It was a (very) brisk Sunday morning drive to Santa Fe to be a spectator for a dear friend’s half marathon. Shannon was there; her fingernails reflecting her neon pink and blue combo and her smile ear to ear. She was ready.
She didn’t seem nervous (though I would have been freaking out) and had determination in her eyes. Determination– yes, you can actually see it. I, of course, became the paparazzi and photographed her every move. The African drums playing at the starting line echoed the sentiment of a run to Buffalo Thunder (which I’m sure has some withstanding Native American history as opposed to the chic casino which is there now). As she lined up at the starting area, the announcers asked that all athletes make way for the elite runners so they can lead the pack. And there was Shannon in the front. Naturally.
During the pre-race announcements, the slew of athletes extraordinare appeared in slow motion. Vertical jumps occupied some, some where stretching, their limbs elastic, some were buzzing their lips, but all of their muscles rippled as waves. I was staring. The human body is just incredible and the fact that these people, my friend included, have turned their bodies into machines that can take on something like a half-marathon is just awe-worthy. So there I was, in awe.
And they’re off! I was screaming my head off and felt a lump in my throat as my friend took off on a journey destined to test her.
The thing I learned the week prior in completing my first triathlon is that any athletic competition tests your body, but most of all: your mind.
After they were well on their way, I took the opportunity to jog around the park and get in some exercise– Though I’ve taken time off since my training, my muscles were still not so thrilled with the concept of running (imagine THIRTEEN miles.. I don’t like doing even ONE). After getting sweaty, I decided I should embark upon the natural beauty known as driving through New Mexico to where the finish line will be. Through the “hills” and beauty, I saw the trekking of athletes along the road, pushing themselves beyond their limits and vying for a new record: whether it is finishing a half-marathon, getting a personal best, or winning.
Upon arriving at the casino, I made my way to the finish line where the spectators were chirping with glee, commenting on how racers looked, who showed up, past victories, how to pronounce names, etc. Next thing I knew, the champion flew into the winner’s tape on the finish line and claimed a record for the run in finishing a half-marathon in 1:03:34 which puts him running as fast as I like to ride my bike. Dang. Yelling and cheering for this man whose name I cannot pronounce, tears sprang to my eyes. Tears? Am I seriously having an emotional reaction to this?
Taken into consideration that I’ve been magically turned into a sap, I watched human machines churn the pavement to butter with finesse. Still, in complete awe. It was soon after the supersonic victors claimed their prize, I knew to expect my long-legged friend. The finish line couldn’t hold me anymore as I made my way down to the last sweeping uphill. And right on time there was a pink shirt and blue shoes in the distance. As her blonde ponytail carved the figure ‘8’ into the air with each stride, I knew without a doubt it was Shannon. As she rounded the corner, my arms became weightless as they were straight up in the air. My feet defied gravity with each jump being higher and higher and above all, I was screaming on the top of my lungs as Shannon climbed the final hill to cross the finish line. Career goal as a cheerleader? Check.
Tall in stature, leggy and breathing hard was my friend after the race. She regaled her experience with hills and I could not stop my jaw from hanging ajar (I hear it’s rude, but I couldn’t help it). Betwixt the breathtaking views through Santa Fe was a course that set her legs ablaze and she continued. She didn’t once stop.
It is true what they say about athletic events inspiring you. But what Shannon accomplished did more than Pinterest or the Olympics could ever do for me– because here was flesh and blood machine that pushed herself to the limits, just because she can. And as a cheerleader, I was in total awe.