This story of athletic triumph comes from what must have been, what, fourth grade? If that is taken as an indication of the kind of athlete I was during the post-puberty portion of my life, well, yeah.
So, up to this point in my life I had never participated in any sort of organized sport. It's possible this was because my parents were dirty hippy pieces of shit who thought organized sports were, like, a tool of the man. We were also poor and dysfunctional and there are any number of other good reasons why it just hadn't happened to that point. At any rate, I was a small kid and probably would have been shattered into a million pieces by some beefy jock kid on the first day of actual competition.
I liked the idea of sports and I liked playing outside and I was a fast little dude. At my elementary school (and maybe this is common to all elementary schools, but we moved a year later and my new school was significantly different, as I recall) we had an annual event called Field Day. This was like dipshit Olympics for kids. Races, relays, hurdles...that may have been it, now that I think about it. The whole school would gather at the multi-purpose field that was the hub of gym class during the non-winter-hell parts of the school year, and there would be races and ribbons and applause and such. This was kind of a big deal for non-organized-sports-playing but otherwise fairly competitive kids of hippy teenager parents, our one big chance to win a ribbon for athletic dominance per year.
I was known among my friends and classmates as a fast runner, and I knew I would have an easy time winning my race, which was the 440-yard dash. To me, this felt less like a rite than just a formality—I wasn't particularly excited about competing or winning, but I was looking forward to having the ribbon. It would be a blue ribbon, and it would indicate that I had done well, and that seemed pretty awesome to nine-year-old me.
Now, there was this other kid in my class, and I don't remember his name, but he was one of those kids who was well-liked and outgoing and could run pretty fast, but not, like, very fast. This was how my mind worked, as a nine-year-old: I am fairly certain I could have lined up all the kids in my entire grade in order of their expected 440-yard-dash performance and be something like 95% correct. I feel like this was a thing nine-year-old boys just knew about each other back then. He is fast, but not as fast as Tommy, and just a little bit faster than Jason, who is a lot faster than Trent. I did not look down on this kid because he was only fast and not very fast, but that I would beat him in the 440-yard-dash was a foregone conclusion.
Field Day came about—I think it was a Friday—and all the classes in all the grades were led from their classrooms through the halls and out the back doors and across a blacktop and along a playground and then down a grassy hill at the bottom of which lay The Field. As our class was making its way through the school, this other kid of mere normal fastness sidled up alongside me and made me a proposition.
I am calling it a proposition now because that is what I now know it to be, but at the time it seemed more like an ominous threat. See, this kid, he was less fast and less smart, but he had years—decades—on me in the field of sleazy dealmaking and unspoken menace. He is probably either a wonderful door-to-door knife salesman or a racketeer these days. Anyway, he found me in the hallway and suggested, firmly, that he and I should tie for first place in the 440-yard-dash. There was no spoken threat—he was smiling the whole time—but I remember my insides curdling at the tone of his suggestion.
To say no would be in violation of some sudden and vague but character-based social contract, or, maybe it would even make us enemies! I had no enemies, then, having not yet developed my talent for being a shitheel windbag, and the very possibility of suddenly having one was frightening. On the other hand, to say yes, and (more importantly) to actually do this thing, to subvert the spirit of the event and allow this side-dealing usurper to have a blue ribbon that belonged, as a result of the very forces of nature, solely to me, the faster runner, was...well, it would be devastating.
I said yes.
The lower grades worked through their competitions under the bright sun completely beyond my attention. I was very nearly in tears, sitting in the bleachers, having thrown away my chance at a beautiful blue ribbon before the race even lined up. The whole thing was just so unacceptable—not only did I feel like a chump, but I also felt like a cheat, like the teachers would find out we'd rigged the contest and tell my parents and everyone would be ashamed of me forever. And I hadn't wanted to do it! I just wanted to run the race and ascend the podium and claim my blue ribbon and wear it on my shirt for the rest of the day and possibly the rest of my life. Now I would be going to jail, probably, all because I couldn't stand up to my classmate.
Eventually our turn to race came around and we lined up on the track. I have no recollection of where we were in relation to one another, nor how many other competitors there were, nor who any of them might have been. None of this would ever have mattered if I'd just said no. None of them would ever ever ever be able to run faster than me in the 440-yard-dash. Now I had to find a way to race side-by-side with this other kid, at his pace, and hope none of the other kids were faster than he was. I was too distracted to even assess my mental rankings of the foot-speed of my classmates.
It occurred to me, then, at the starting line, waiting for the gym teacher to shout GO!!!, that I had put myself in a terrible spot. This kid was not a close friend of mine, and I had no way of knowing whether I could even trust him to hold up his end of the bargain. What if, as we crossed the finish line, he leaned forward for the photo finish? What if he'd brought other people, possibly teachers and administrators, into his scheme, and the whole thing was rigged top to bottom?
We leaned into our starting stances, and the teacher yelled Ready, Set, GO!!! We tore off.
Thankfully, he was quite a bit faster than the other competitors, and so we breezed away from them at a pace that suited his inferior foot-speed and which I could easily maintain running backwards on my hands up a hill of broken glass. I kept him in the corner of my right eye as we entered the big turn.
The crowd in the bleachers was cheering wildly, anyway that is how this registered in my nine-year-old brain. There were thousands of spectators and many of them were grown-ups and we are neck-in-neck rounding the big turn, pulling away from the pack, there is probably an old-timey announcer shouting into a giant metal microphone for the listeners around the globe.
And then, wouldn't you know it, this little bastard started to speed up. He was on my outside and we were cruising out of the turn and I was prepared to throw away this moment of glory and bring shame upon my family for generations to satisfy this screwy deal of his and lo-and-behold this scam artist, this traitor, this pile of filth was making his fuckin' move.
There was just no way in hell I was going to let this happen. I took off like fuckin' Seabiscuit.
We were probably not more than, what, 40 yards from the finish when he made his move, but I was so goddamn pissed off by it and I hit the jets so fucking hard God might as well have paused the entire rest of the race. We were 40 yards from the finish when he made his move and he was 39.8 yards from the finish when I broke the tape. I was so stunned and angry and hurt and betrayed I had to stop myself from bawling like a baby and telling the nearest teacher what that living puddle of cat vomit had just tried to pull on me. I beat him so resoundingly I had time to turn around and scowl at him as he loped across the finish line with a stupid hurt look on his face, like he hadn't tried to double-deal me just seconds earlier.
They wound up doing the ribbon ceremony later that day in the gymnasium. I stood on the tallest part of the podium and collected my blue ribbon, which was everything I'd ever hoped it would be: blue, and mine. Dipshit cheater man took his lame-ass buster-ass red ribbon and stood there like a fucking clown.