Most people are surprised to find out that I was a long-distance runner in high school. This is largely because my body type is the exact opposite body type you would need to be really successful at cross country – my hips are wide, my legs are short and I am very top-heavy. But in running, unlike most other sports, no matter how much natural talent you have (in my case, zero), if you work hard, you are guaranteed to become better. You may never be great, but you will improve.

I was never great. At my best, I was brutally mediocre. I loved running – the teamwork and the independence, the amazing things it did for my thigh muscles – so I competed for all four years of high school, but I never once won a race.

I do have a medal, though.

To compete in a state-level track meet in an individual race, you have to meet a qualifying time in a race during the season. I did not. Schools are allowed to submit relay teams in the relay events without meeting any qualifying times; however, if you want to do particularly well in that event, you put your fast people on the team; ergo, I wasn’t selected to be part of a relay team. So in the winter of my senior year, I went along to the Class B girls indoor track state meet as a cheerleader. (I do have a very loud voice and a talent for making myself heard in loud, crowded stadiums.)

And then one of our relay runners got sick. Suddenly, our team needed a runner in the 4-by-8.

For my readers unfamiliar with track slang, the 4-by-8 is a relay in which four runners run 800 meters – half a mile – each, carrying a baton. I could run half a mile. All of a sudden, I was in the race.

There wasn’t enough time for me to go change in the locker rooms, so don my track shorts in the stadium, in front of my principal, shielded only by teammates holding up towels around me – and have I mentioned that my principal was a nun?

(Why, yes, I did go to Catherine McAuley High School. I was, am and always will be a McAuley girl.)

I didn’t have time for a proper warmup, either – I just bounced around, stretched the most necessary muscles and practiced a few quick baton handoffs with my teammates. (I was very, very afraid of dropping the baton.) I squeaked about how excited I was to get a chance to run in a real state-level track meet, because I had never done it before!

Now, I found out later that after our first runner had gotten sick (sudden-onset stomach bug, not uncommon in Maine winters, as I am sure we all know), my other three teammates had decided to take it easy in the relay – they all had their own races to run and their own goals to hit, and didn’t want to wear themselves out in the relay, which was one of the first events. But then I got put into the race – a senior who had never won a medal, at her last state meet. And my teammates – Lauren, Cristina and Taxia – all decided that they were going to do what it took to get us a medal.

I don’t remember much of my half-mile run. I apologize for the cliche, but it really was all a blur. I mostly remember how physically painful it was that I wasn’t wearing a sports bra, and how tightly I gripped the baton. I am happy to report that not only did I not drop the baton, I also ran the fastest half-mile of my life in that race: 800 meters in 2 minutes, 55 seconds. By track standards, that time is “meh”; by Victoria standards, that time was “SHAZAM!” And my teammates – all insanely talented – really did give their all.

We came in sixth.

Sixth place is good enough for a spot on the podium – and for a medal. I think most fathers secretly dream of athletic glory for their children, and that day was as close as I ever came to it. This may have been why my dad stole my medal from my desk two days after the track meet. He kept that small medal from a small track meet in a small state on his bureau until the day he died. He was so proud of me. And you know what? I’m proud, too – proud to be a McAuley girl.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

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Twitter: mainemillennial