The Willow trial run was the most perilous of all the courses. Everyone knew that. Those brave or dumb enough to try it wiped out in seconds with a bloody nose or a busted arm or worse. Records said only one person had ever made it through successfully. Ever.
Coach said that the Willow course was for those who wished to pass at the top of the class with highest marks. If they made it through and if they made it in time. The record was 39.78 seconds. Eesh. Even I couldn’t make it that quick…right? Then I flashed back to the morning. Shadela’s shove. My panicked maneuvers. Making it through. Unscathed. Maybe…just maybe I could!
I volunteered right as Coach was about to send us all off to an easier run. Grumbles, then taunts of being a showoff surged through the group hovering above the rushing waters. Coach gave me an eye of doubtful surprise but asked me to get ready anyway. “You’ll have three chances to beat the required time of 45 seconds. If you make it and wish to try for a better time, you may do so. Are you set?”
“Ready,” he started.
I unhooked myself from my sled. My hummers sped out from underneath me. I breathed deeply. Focus. Breathe. Focus. There is nothing but the tree. There is nothing but what is before you. I practiced what my father had trained me to do. To focus.
There is nothing but the tree. You are alone. Alone in the world with a single tree. That is all that matters. That tree. Stay relaxed, stay focused, and never take your eyes off the tree. Focus. You are alone, with God as witness. With the tree, the only tree in the world, waiting for you to fly its course. You are focused. You are ready. God is watching.
I shot towards the tree. The leafy, green branches parted as I reached them. I followed what I had done that morning. Over. Under. Right. Left. Over over under left over right under roll. Left over under right turn twist under over roll twist glide. On and on. Here and there and everywhere. Branches and wind and leaves surrounding me. For a few seconds that felt like an eternity. I saw the sky calling me home. The light strands drew back like a majestic curtain as I careened out of the maze behind me. It was over. I was through. I was done.
But had I passed?
I slowed, finding my way back to Coach. His expression was beyond me.
He kept looking from me to the timer he was holding. If he was surprised, he hid it very well. Or not well at all. His face was blank as a white canvas waiting to be painted.
“Coach Wachler? Did I pass?”
I felt panic bursting out of my chest as he wordlessly handed over the timer. I nearly exploded in astonishment.
32.67 seconds. Nobody’d beaten the record. Ever. It was more than extraordinary. It was dangerously close to miraculous.
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