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I stand in the dark. The clock ticks. Seconds fly by. One, my heart races. Two, my head spins. Three, my lungs crave air. Four, my eyes search for reassurance, anything, give me anything. Five, my ears boom. I search the pitch-black room frantically for a trash can. Six, my legs begin to move. Seven, faster. Eight, there are only a few seconds left. Nine, someone grabs my hand. Ten, “you’re fine.” Eleven, my lungs find that air. I’m okay. I’ll be okay. Twelve, my hand finds another hand. Thirteen, silence, just the booming of my heartbeat in my ears. Fourteen, lights flood my vision. Fifteen, go time.
In just 15 seconds, my mind bounces from possibility to possibility. Only a few times throughout my life have I felt a moment like this one. One of beautiful insanity. Where time stops but moves faster than ever before. One where I am preparing to be as perfect as possible for the next 150 seconds. One with not a single finger out of place, not one wrong step. But, it’s not just me. I have to count on 25 other people to be perfect for those same 150 seconds. If not— it’s over.
In all-star cheerleading, it is practically impossible to take first place with a mistake. A moment of beautiful insanity. One hundred and fifty seconds to be exact. One hundred and fifty seconds where I feel bonded with the other 25 people on that mat, an incomparable connection. One hundred and fifty seconds to prove myself to a panel of ten strangers.
It’s finals in the biggest competition of my life, and we’re in second place. All we need to do is be perfect. It’s possible: I can do the one thing I have always dreamed of doing… today.
Fifteen, the last beat of the music booms in my ears. Fourteen, I hear the crowd roar. Thirteen, I frantically search for clues on the faces of my teammates. Twelve, a wash of relief floods through my body. Eleven, I feel my heart beating out of my chest. Ten, my legs begin to move. Nine, I feel warm arms wrap around me. Eight, tears start to flow down my face, mixing with the droplets of sweat. Seven, I realize I am still trying to catch my breath. Six, I am gasping for air. Five, it doesn’t matter. Four, “we did it.” Three, we did it. Two, I nearly collapse. One, all the work was worth it.
A moment of pure bliss. But now comes the worst part— the waiting. Was it perfection? Is perfection even enough?
We walk onto the awards stage, nerves spilling through every portion of my body. It’s time.
They’re down to fifth place. Fifth place, not us. Fourth place, not us. Third place, not us. Here we go… this is it.
“Oh, this is a close one! The top two teams are separated by only 0.2 points” the announcer states through the microphone.
He starts again, “In second place by 0.2, with a score of 98.1… Heat Athletics, Firebolt!”
I can’t help feeling let down, but I run over and congratulate the other team.
As I look back, I am most proud of these moments. I have always dreamed of the moment where they call our name for first place, but now I realize that is not what is important. I look back on these moments as my biggest accomplishments. Ones that taught me that unity, hard work, determination, passion, and sportsmanship are the elements that I will take away from this experience as life skills. I will never regret not taking the first place trophy home. Being 0.2 points away from my dream, so much as a pointed toe, had taught me more than first place ever could.