Essay of the Week: “Personal Record”

By Sam Woodhouse

When I am an underdog, I force myself to act like a world record holder. When I’m down, I have learned to look up, thanks to track and years of navigating through the family tensions culminating in my parents’ divorce. It has been a long race with lessons that I carry to the track. I realized this the first time I was running with my new track club last summer. I was a bit nervous as this club was one of the top two in Georgia. When I walked onto the track, my optimism took over. I owe this attitude to the growth from what seemed like one of the most troubling days of my life that would actually serve as a guide to keeping focused on the big picture. It was March 5, 2012. My parents called my sister, Alexis and I upstairs for a “family talk.”  There would be many of these talks over the next five years through separations, arguments and then finally a formal divorce in 2016.

Going into the race last summer, I was the second-to-last seeded runner in my heat and some of my competitors seemed to know that.

“Good Luck,” said Lamarcus, chuckling with sarcasm. As a response, I laughed as well and said “Thanks I don’t know how much I will need it.”

Before races, I feed off of how my opponents hold themselves. If I come to the starting blocks timidly while the other runners are mouthing off, I will be eaten alive on the track. When I was getting ready for the race, my mother was in the stands watching and hoping that I could run my best. My parents are always there for me even through their own discord which serves as an inspiration to see the good in people and situations.

The shot fired and I took off. I knew I had to lift my legs higher and faster because my competition was stiffer. This is another attribute that comes from dealing with the trauma of a family falling apart. My biggest challenge was not letting my big sister down. Alexis is three years older than me, but there were times when I had to act like I was her big brother. Throughout her life, she has struggled with stressful situations. When we got the news of the divorce, I was less focused on me and more concerned on the impact on her. I could not wallow in my sorrow since she has relied on me to be the rock that keeps her sane.

Track is my rock. It keeps me sane. My focus on the sport was the perfect distraction from the biggest moment of defeat in my home life. My parents had the fight that led Dad to move back out again. I was sleeping and heard screaming, arguing and a door slam. I rush downstairs to find Mom is in the kitchen crying after Dad was en route to a hotel. Mom stressed I had school the next day and needed sleep. Her spirit and concern for my best interest in the midst of her own sorrow inspired me to stay positive and focus on academics and, of course, track. The competitiveness of the sport requires an absorbing work ethic. The demanding coaches and practices force me to employ an energy that I sometimes did not even know I possessed. Of course, that 400m dash is a grueling race.  However as tough as it seemed on that summer day, I came around the final curve completely refreshed. I raced to the finish line, feeling the majority of my competition behind me. I finished in second place.

I did not bask in the glow of a strong showing. After any race, the key is to walk off gracefully as a good sport whether you win or lose–something my family life has prepared me to do.

Sam Woodhouse, a graduate of the Westminster School, just began his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.