My young daughters were watching the Olympics the other day and came running to tell me the story of Perdita Felicien, the Canadian athlete who crashed into a hurdle when running the women's 100 meters. I said I could empathize completely and reminisced aloud about a hurdle that I had faced as a young athlete"¦
I went to Lincoln Elementary School in the 1960s. I was as skinny as a stick, not a complete tomboy, but not overly girly-girly either. That is to say, I could climb a tree, cross a creek (usually without falling in), shinny up a rope, and scoot through a highway culvert as well as any boy--and better than most. But occasionally I liked to wear a dress to school, and then I was All Girl"prim and proper.
So one lovely Spring day I was in my prim and proper mode in my best little dress when I arrived at school only to hear that today we were all taking the bus over to the track at nearby Jefferson School. "Whoa and wait one little minute!" thought I.
Apparently I had NOT received that memo. All the kids were screaming and yelling and were very excited because there would be no classes for the entire day. "What's wrong with classes as usual? Has anybody considered the academic fallout from this plan?" I silently fumed.
We were quickly herded onto the big yellow bus and before I could say, "Excuse me, please, I don't think I feel well, I'd like to call my mother," there we were, dumped off unceremoniously at Jefferson Elementary, which was all set up for what was informally referred to as Track and Field Day.
I looked out over that field thinking I could not have been more ill-prepared had I been dropped off on the surface of the moon. One small step for man, one giant step for mankind"¦
Now this part is fuzzy in my memory, but apparently I had been "signed up" ("signed up, you say? WHO signed me up?" I queried silently) for the hurdles event. Fine, I told myself. Stand back. I can do this.
I have my PF flyers on (thank God that at least I was not wearing some stupid sandals). I had an A-line dress on (popular at that time, no doubt fashioned out of your finer polyester and attractively trimmed in rickrack), so I had plenty of room to run and jump. Lead me to the hurdles.
Okay, okay, enough with the bravado. I also had butterflies in my stomach and wished again I'd been "signed up" for something I felt a little more confident about. "Where are the creek-crossing events or even rope climbing or culvert crawling?" I wondered.
I stepped up to the line, got into position, and the whistle blew. I took off like a shot, approached the first hurdle, and threw out my foot to fly over it like a gazelle.
Only, here's the thing: I apparently did not throw out my foot quite high enough because this gazelle fell like a ton of bricks. Unlike the nice track surfaces of today, I recall this one being something akin to crushed rock.
I hauled myself up, all bruised and bleeding, shook the dust from my dress, straightened my shoulders, and with as much dignity as I could muster in my humiliated state, I marched right off that field to look for the Ladies' Room.
Teachers rushed up to fuss over me and see if I was okay and tell me they'd never seen the like of it for the bravery and dignity I had displayed under duress. So bruised and bleeding, (but now slightly less humiliated and maybe even a little proud), there I stood in the Spring sunshine, a stick figure of a child in a dirty A-line polyester dress and PF flyers.
My daughters were rapt with attention. But wait, the Big Finish (and best part) was yet to come, and I was just warming up.
"Yes, my dears," I waxed on, "in the olden, golden days of yore when I was a child, that type of day, an all-day track and field event at Jefferson Elementary School (complete with the gore and the glory as I have just described it) was officially designated on the School Calendar of Events as: FUN DAY!"
When we all stopped laughing, I said again that I do feel badly for Perdita. Even when one trips and falls on the sidewalk, your first concern is not whether you are injured. Your first concern is whether anyone was looking. When I crashed on that hurdle on that "Fun Day" so long ago, believe me, it sure felt like the whole world was looking. But when Perdita tripped last week, practically the whole world really was looking.
And whereas my "Fun Day" had snuck up on me and found me unprepared and not at all thrilled to be participating, she had been training, I imagine, her whole life for her Olympic moment in the sun.
Nonetheless, this too shall pass. Sometimes it's not the fall that people remember. Sometimes what they remember best is the way you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and went on about your business.