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My Athletics Adventure

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

My Athletics Adventure

By Tinashe Dube, 2019

The experience of being able to part of the journey was a complete bliss in it’s own respect. If I was to live the moment once more, I would take the opportunity countless times just to feel the emotions that made me feel alive.

When the Zonal trials were around the corner, I recall the whole school of Watershed College began to engage in intensive preparations. Of course, training had begun in January but we knew that to be able to compete and be successful we had to execute and complete our conditioning and be mentally prepared. This progressed for a couple of weeks and when the day approached us, we were ready.

I remember smiles on some people faces as they sat by the audience stands, watching the participants go head on to be able to progress to the next stage. I recall seeing some people really surprising me as they stood high on their feet after managing to clinch first place. Impressive performances from athletes like Mavis Kwarayi, the girls athletics captain who swiftly clinched gold in high jump, and Tadiwa Kunaka, the boys captain, who was first in long jump and the 100 meters events. It really was a blast and a good start up to a promising season in the world of athletics.

Two weeks of strong training passed in a blur and in no moment, the Districts Trials dawned upon us. We knew the stakes and definitely kept in mind how the competition bar had been raised higher, but nevertheless we were ready to conquer. We kept reaching new heights and soared over them simply. Somehow, not to be disrespectful but, it really felt like we were preparing for the greatest battle ever. So, District and Provincial trials were in our favors.

The nature of the competition immediately became tense the moment we stepped onto Midlands soil on Sunday 24 March 2019. Ten participants, seven boys and three girls, were able to compete in the National trials at Midlands Christian College, in the province of Midlands. I felt many rushes of emotions as I tried to calm myself. Excitement and fear were the most prominent as the boys decided to check out the track that would soon be a battle ground for us. Andrew Mapa, our 4×100 meters, took the opportunity to see if long spike nails would be suitable for the green grass. The track itself was hard, and lane one and two had a patch on the 100 meters dash which felt like concrete. We agreed that short spike nails were the most suitable option if we were to play safe and avoid any unnecessary injuries.

Two days moved swiftly and the National athletics Trials commenced with the 400 meters semifinal heat stages. My nerves were really wracked and I continued to tell myself to stay calm and focused just to bring in a little hope that I could hold on. My provincial coaches gave me the updated program and told me to prepare efficiently. My goal was to just come out in the top three and qualify into the finals without straining, so my warm up really made my body ready for the task at hand. For my mental strength, I listened to motivational quotes from highly successful models like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

An hour passed, and the sun increased its temperature with the sun and sky high in the midmorning. The athletes for the 400 meters race were standing nervously, giving each other side and glances, and there was a presence of small talk once in a while. One of the Zimbabwean officials came to the great white tent which stood as the call room for our check ins and put all ten athletes in a single file. Immediately, we followed to the finishing line of the track, taking note that only eight out of us will be able to qualify in the finals.

What caught me off guard is that when we were approaching the finishing line of the track, I saw my mother giving me her amazing smile of encouragement. I was surprised she had traveled all the way from Harare to support me and she sat under a tent with her younger sister, my Aunt. I recall feeling the tension in my body washing away and falling into the comfort of relaxation. The first five athletes of the first heat made their way onto the track and competed against each other, with the Masvingo province athlete running 48.58 seconds. This worried me because I had never even managed to decrease my time for 400 meters below 49 seconds.

When the starter pulled the trigger, I burst into a rush, in the first lane, aiming to be out of the curve in no time. When I got into the backstretch I realized that the other athletes seemed to not care about saving their stamina and were ready to sprint the whole way. I ran into the second curve, calculating the 150 meters mark so that I begin my final sprint. As soon as I spotted a small red flag and reached close by, I began to sprint hard like a mad man. I was now on first position when I got into the last stretch when suddenly, without realizing it, I got onto the hard gravel ground and off it in a split second. In that instance, my left hamstring locked up and I lost my structure. I began to struggle and when I crossed the finish line, I was second to Bulawayo’s athlete runner who ran 49.83 seconds. I was supposed to feel disappointed but instead, I was thrilled that I had qualified. I had a goal to finish in the top three in the final and get my first medal in the event at National level.

The medley relay, 4×100 meters and the 4×400 meters races proved to be a challenge but we managed to qualify into the finals too. The day we were all waiting for arrived and we were mentally prepared for it. The impatience we had woke up us at around 5 a.m. with the hopes of having enough time to refresh and stretch before breakfast. I remember asking Wesley Chiyangwa to walk with me outside the hostel for a brief talk and I recall asking him if it was worth pain to keep on running. He surprised me by saying, "All I want is to get a medal. Regardless of how fast those people are, we have to just push and make sure that if we are not first, then we'll give the guys from Mashonaland Central a hard fight. "

This really stood as a great push that encouraged me to make sure that I put all effort and make sure that whatever the outcome, we come out victorious. We both knew that it was our Rookie year and reaching this far was rare in most cases. At the same time, the people we were going against were our biggest challenges and were the fastest under 20 boys. It would have been disappointing to hear that we were going against Mash Central which had many scholars who came from different provinces last year to be united. The stakes were high and the bar was raised and for the first time in my life, I was motivated to run hard and put my body on the line in order to be successful. So we said a little prayer and dispersed to our stations to prepare.

4×100 meters was a blur, with a stiff competition as Mapa started the race hard, passing the button stick to me. We knew that for us to win, our button exchange had to be smooth and our acceleration had to be on the peak so we ran hard. Giving Brandon Makedenge the button stick, he dashed forward, increasing both the distance between our team and other teams and our chance to obtain gold. When our finisher received the stick, we celebrated as he ran forward towards the finish line. It was at that moment I realized that the person for Mash Central had received his button stick and was running hard. All our hopes crashed down when he caught up to our man and increased his speed, taking first place as we settled silver. This really made me feel angry and I promised myself to push hard to make sure that this wouldn’t happen. Somehow, Wesley’s words rang into my mind, and I made sure that I would not feel bitter of the outcome. So I went with my teammates and congratulated Mash Central, with the tension flowing out of me once more.

4×medley started around 12:23pm with the sun hitting hard as Mapa took his starting position at the 200 meters mark. With the gun erupting into the air, I saw dust rising from Mapa’s position as he soared, aiming to getting to our 200 meters run of the medley relay. With a smooth button exchange, our runner sprinted with an goal to get to Wesley before any team, especially Mashonaland Central. Sadly, the 300 meters runner from Mash Central got the button stick first and immediately sprinted. With crashed hopes I stared as he progressed to the 250 meters when I check to see Wesley pushing hard to catch up to him. This literally got the crowd as they watched with anticipation on the outcome of this. When the runner reached to his 400 meters runner and handed him the button sick, he dashed forward and sprinted like a mad man. I received the button stick afterwards with the accompaniment to push hard. I caught up, knowing that fatigue would soon catch up. Nevertheless I wanted to fulfil my promise and immediately I ran forward. When we got out the second curve of the track, fatigue quickly enloped me and my hamstrings started to reach their limits. I couldn’t see the track properly so I did what I had never done: close my eyes and ran. I took the chance to trust my instincts and hoped that I was running in a straight line. When I passed the finishing line, we obtained silver once more.

The 4×400 meters race was the most emotional race for me. Not because we got second place once more but because I realize how much people put faith in our team to put out a good show and be successful. Everyone ran and really put their bodies on the line, enduring the pain just to make sure the next man would have a safe distance before they worn out. Both my hamstrings were groaning with my feet having bruises and I couldn’t stand upright. Wesley was having difficulty walking properly, his vision blurry and with an unbearable headache. Svoda couldn't bear his stomach pain and his quads were in pain and Tawana couldn’t even walk properly with his legs and left shoulder in a weak state. The weird part about the outcome of the race? We laughed at each other, proud that we managed to bring about a strong competition.

The best performances came from these amazing nine athletes. Kiera, the girl who ran in the 4×100 meters showed strong will and determination to hit the backstretch hard, Mavis Kwarayi who soared sky high in high jump. Tadiwa Kunaka, the man who ignored his injury to finish the race and Brandon Makendeke who made sure to create distance away from his competitors made quick work of the teams. Tanyaradzwa Kakono was the young lady who faced her fears and jumped over the high jump bar at her first athletics challenge really did a great job. Simbarashe Siraha was the young giant who proved a point that 400 meters was child’s play if the mind was strong and Wesley Chiyangwa, the determined guy who wanted to hit and set new times. Not forgetting our great starter, Andrew Mapa who made sure that no man would be beside him after 10 meters of an intense, powerful surge. Needless to say, I really got to appreciate their presence.

Special mentions go to my coaches. Why? They showed great patience with me when it seemed all too difficult. They are the ones who initiated all training. As unbearable as they were, I’m glad we got through them. Coach Mike who made sure that I stretched hard, always gave me quotes and told me how to prepare mentally. Coach Faith showed me basic fitness programs which really got me worked up and ready. Coach George taught me the art of the button exchange and literally showed us that we could run less time when the button exchange was smooth. Coach Marumahoko, the man who gave me advice and programs that improved my performance. This man really pushed me to the edge and was the main reason I engaged in sport by Watershed, especially with the 400 meters event. I'm truly grateful and I’ll push hard to make sure I make them proud. Mr Maradzike and Mrs Kamupira were the two people that made sure to tell us to give it our all just so we could have a laugh out of it.

Who motivated me? My parents, of course. They were supportive through the struggle and really travelled miles just to make sure I got calm before and after my races. I really couldn't have had it any other way because they presented a kind of love I wouldn't have traded for anything. Most importantly, I put all glory to the Lord, God, because before every race, I’d ask him to let me be the representative of his Glorious Name.

The memories were amazing and I wouldn't trade them in for anything. Why am I saying this even though we didn't reach our initial goals?  That’s because we managed to create a strong bond and created new targets to become faster, stronger and better than everyone. We now had experience and knew we were going to be more determined to push and train like there would be no tomorrow. This is what made me smile. This is what made us proud to be under Watershed College as its athletes of 2019.