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Authors: Rich Wallace

Tags: #Ages 8 & Up

Fast Company (3 page)

BOOK: Fast Company
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DiMarco reached over and Manny smacked his hand. “Nice job,” Manny said.
“You, too.”
They turned and watched the second group of runners finish. Anthony was struggling, but he was ahead of two others. He snatched off his cap at the finish line and wiped his face with it. “That is a long way to sprint,” he said to Manny.
“Good running, though,” Manny said, falling into step with Anthony as they walked toward the pile of sweatshirts and stuff on the bottom row of the bleachers.
“Those workouts with you paid off,” Anthony said, still puffing hard. “I never would have survived this a month ago.”
Manny found his warm-up top and his gloves and picked them up. Sherry was leaning forward against the fence, stretching out her legs. Manny walked past her without catching her eye.
But Sherry surprised him by speaking. “Great running,” she said.
Manny looked over, making sure it was him she was addressing. She raised her eyebrows slightly, waiting for a reply.
“Thanks,” he said. “You’re fast.”
“We’ll be pushing each other all winter,” she said. “That can’t be bad.”
“Definitely,” Manny said.
“I think I’ll be racing after all,” she said. “Like Coach said, running and jumping go together.”
Manny nodded. “You definitely should be racing,” he said. “I mean, I’m fast. And you pushed me all day.”
Coach blew his whistle and called everybody over. “We’ve got some real talent here,” he said. “I want two more easy laps from everybody—walk some of it if you have to. We’ll meet again two days from now, and then again on Saturday. There’s a relay meet in New York in two weeks. We should be ready to race by then.”
Manny felt another surge of energy when Coach mentioned the meet. Before he knew it, they’d be racing for real! He took off running again, envisioning that relay meet. This time, no one else stayed close.
5
Monopoly
M
anny’s locker was right next to Donald’s. He leaned against it and waited after school a few days later. Soon Donald came bounding down the hall, running into a fifth-grader and nearly knocking her over.
“What’s up?” Manny asked.
“Nothing. Just was getting drilled by Mrs. Luciano after English,” he said. “She said I was fooling around in class. Would I do that?”
“No way,” Manny said, solemnly shaking his head. Then he laughed. “You’re the perfect student.”
“Teachers
love
me,” Donald said. “I’m always polite and attentive.”
“Yes, you are. You deserve a medal or something.”
“At least,” Donald said. “They should maybe rename the school after me.” He shoved his books into his locker and put on his coat. “You coming over today?” he asked.
Manny hesitated. “I need to run first,” he said.
“I thought there was no practice on Fridays.”
“There isn’t. But I want to do some extra work. We got a meet coming up.”
“You never hang out anymore.”
“That ain’t true,” Manny said. “I swear, I’ll come over in an hour or so. I won’t be long.”
“Yeah, right,” Donald said.
They walked over to Anthony’s locker. Anthony was looking at a sheet of paper and frowning.
“What’s that?” Donald asked.
Anthony shook his head. “More crap,” he said. “Somebody stuck this on my locker.”
Manny took the paper. In the same red lettering as before, someone had written TRACK EVENTS:
Manny and Sherie

high-speed make-out session. Demarco

sprints and hair-combing. Anthony

pie-eating contest.
“They didn’t even spell the names right,” Manny said.
“Who is this jerk?” Anthony said. “If I catch him, he’s dog meat.”
Donald bent the paper toward him to read it. “It is kind of funny, though.” He looked at Anthony and took a step back. “No offense. Pretty good line about DiMarco.” He turned to Manny. “Something going on with you and Sherry, hotshot?”
Manny rolled his eyes. “I barely know her,” he said.
Anthony took the paper back and crunched it up. “Idiots,” he said, looking at the ball of paper. He put it on the shelf of his locker, then slammed it shut. “Let ’em laugh,” he said. “I got some running to do.”
 
Manny ran for half an hour along the side streets of Hudson City, struggling a bit up the hills but enjoying the rhythm of the running. He ran past the tightly packed houses with their small back-yards and narrow driveways, along rutted side-walks, or right in the street, alongside parked cars and under the bare-branched maple trees. The air was cold but dry.
He quickly changed clothes after the workout.
“Mom, I’m going over to Donald’s for a little while,” he said, coming down the stairs into the kitchen. Mom was a bank teller and had arranged her schedule so she’d be home when Sal finished kindergarten each day. She was just starting to prepare dinner.
“We’ll be eating at six,” she said. “Your dad will be home early tonight, so don’t be more than an hour.”
“Okay,” Manny said. “That isn’t much time.”
“Well,” she said, “if you’re. going to work out every day, that doesn’t leave as much time for hanging out with Donald.”
“I guess.”
Manny and Donald had been tight as brothers for a long time, but this past football season had changed things a bit. Manny still considered Donald his best buddy, but Anthony had become a close friend, too. And Anthony was a dedicated athlete. He took sports as seriously as Manny did. That made a difference.
Manny winced as he remembered the line on the paper about him and Sherry. She was a serious athlete, too. But a girlfriend for Manny? No way.
Donald lived three blocks over on one side of a two-family duplex. He had the Monopoly board set up when Manny arrived.
“I’ve only got an hour,” Manny said.
“No problem,” Donald said. “You want a drink or something?”
“Yeah, I’m thirsty. I ran about three miles.”
They settled into the game, and Manny slowly built an empire of purple, green, and orange properties. Donald owned a couple of railroads, but he was getting clobbered until he landed on Boardwalk and cobbled together enough money to buy it.
“You’re mine now,” Donald said, rubbing his hands together in glee. A few turns later he added a couple of houses.
Manny rolled the die and his mouth fell open. “Oh, man!” he said, moving his little metal car ahead seven spaces. Right on Boardwalk! “How much do I owe you?”
“Six hundred bucks,” Donald said. “The come-back has begun!”
Just then the phone rang. Manny looked over at the clock. “That’ll be my mom,” he said. “I’m late.”
Donald answered the phone. “Hello,” he said into the receiver. “He’s on his way.”
“Call it a draw?” Manny said.
Donald frowned. “I guess. Just when I had you nailed, too.”
“Later,” Manny said as he hurried into his jacket and headed for the door. “Catch you tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got practice at ten.”
Manny ran down Donald’s hill and up his own. He was home in less than two minutes.
“Record time,” said Dad, giving Manny a hug. “You’re not even out of breath.”
“I can run all day,” Manny said. “Smells great in here. I’m hungry.”
Sal was already seated at the table. “Me, too!” he said. “Let’s go, Manny. I’m starving.”
They all sat down and Dad said grace. Manny’s family was Catholic, but he’d always attended public school. Mrs. Ramos’s roots were Irish and Italian, but Dad’s parents had come over from Cuba. The family went to church most Sundays, and Manny had played several seasons for the parish soccer team.
“Let’s rent a movie tonight,” Dad said. “Have a family night.”
“Something scary!” Sal said.
“Sure,” said Dad. “Something scary.”
Manny reached over and put his hand on top of Sal’s head. “You won’t keep me up all night, will you?” he asked.
“Nah,” Sal said. “I’m brave. Nothing scares me.”
Manny laughed. “Wait till you get older. Life is plenty scary sometimes.”
6
First Race
M
anny’s dad and several other parents did the driving as the team made its way into New York City for the first track and field meet. Manny sat in the front seat of the station wagon and tried to stay calm, but he could barely sit still.
He was scheduled to anchor the sprint medley relay. Zero would start with a 200-meter leg—one lap of the track. Then Calvin Tait would follow with another 200-meter run. Vinnie DiMarco would take the baton for 400 meters. Then Manny would finish the race with an 800-meter leg. Later, that same group would run the mile relay (actually, 1600 meters), with each one running 400 meters.
“This is going to be awesome,” Manny said, turning in his seat to face Zero and Anthony. “I can’t wait to get on that track.”
“Won’t be long now,” Dad said. They were on the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River, crossing into New York City. “The Armory is right up here on 168
th
Street.”
Manny looked down at the river glistening in the moonlight. Then he unzipped his gym bag for the third time that evening, checking again to make sure he had his new racing shoes and his jersey. Coach Alvaro had handed out the jerseys the day before—red tank tops with HUDSON CITY CHARGERS in black lettering.
They parked in a giant, multi-level garage, and Coach Alvaro led the runners and their parents on the chilly walk along Fort Washington Avenue to the Armory.
“Wow!” said Manny as they entered the arena. It was the largest indoor space he’d ever been in—twenty times the size of the gym at his school. The six-lane 200-meter track was brick-red and the turns were sharply banked. On the infield was an eight-lane sprint straightaway, pole-vault and long-jump runways, and an area for the high jump. A huge American flag and a U.S. Olympic flag hung from the rafters high above the track, and swarms of kids were jogging on the track or stretching on the infield.
The Hudson City Chargers stood and looked around the arena. Manny’s mouth was open and his eyes were wide. He felt tiny. Was he ready for this?
Calvin let out a low whistle. “This is some facility,” he said.
“Guess we’ll find out what we’re made of,” Manny said. “This is the real thing.”
“I’ll get us registered,” Coach said. “You guys take a few laps before the meet begins. Get used to those banked turns.”
Manny jogged next to Calvin and Zero. “Let’s go a little faster on this turn,” he said after a few laps of the track. They began striding harder, racing through the turn and onto the backstretch.
“Weird,” Calvin said as they slowed to a jog. “Feels like one leg’s longer than the other. Or like you’re running uphill sideways.”
“We’ll be all right,” Manny said. “It’s dry in here, though.” His throat felt tight from the short sprint. Racing indoors would certainly be different.
An announcement came to clear the track for the first event.
“You guys run in about thirty minutes,” Coach Alvaro told them as they joined the others in the bleachers. “Stay loose.”
Soon came the announcement they’d been waiting for. “First call, boys’ eleven-twelve sprint medley. Report.”
Manny shivered. Everyone in the arena would be watching him.
“Let’s go, guys,” Coach Alvaro said. He handed DiMarco an index card listing the team name and the four runners, with an estimated time of 4:35. “Hand this to the clerk. Remember—stick to the inside lanes. If you get forced outside on those steep turns, you’ll wind up running a lot of extra yardage.”
Manny took a deep breath and they made their way out of the bleachers to the floor.
About eighteen relay teams gathered near the starting line. DiMarco went over and handed in the card. Manny took a seat on the floor and watched as older runners sprinted by on the track.
Fast,
he thought.
And strong.
Runners, coaches, and other spectators in the bleachers above the track were cheering and pounding on the railing as the leaders neared the finish line.
DiMarco came back and kneeled next to his teammates. “We’re in the second section,” he said. “That’s good, I guess. We can watch the first heat and get a feel for how it goes.”
Manny nodded and shut his eyes and slowly let out his breath. His armpits were damp with nervous sweat. The runners around him waiting for the race looked serious. Determined. Their jerseys said things like PEGASUS TRACK CLUB, WASHINGTON HEIGHTS YMCA, ROCKAWAY ROADRUNNERS.
Nearby, four guys were jogging in a tight single-file line, making sharp handoffs with a baton. Their shirts said
Bronx A
.
C
. in yellow script against a black background that was slightly darker than their various skin tones.
“Those guys look
good
,” DiMarco said.
“They in our race?” Calvin asked.
“Same race, different section,” DiMarco replied. “The
fastest
section.”
The Hudson City runners stood and watched as that fastest section began. The 200-meter runners seemed to fly along the track, and the 400-meter runners were smooth and strong. Manny kept his eyes on the anchor runner for the Bronx A.C., who waited calmly at the line for his teammate to hand off the baton.
The Bronx A.C. runner took the baton and followed the two leaders for a lap before passing them both on the backstretch. He led comfortably for another lap, then seemed to accelerate as the others began to tighten. His lead grew steadily from there.
Manny looked up at the runner standing next to him, a tall, thin athlete from the Synergistic Track Club. “He’s fast,” Manny said.
The guy nodded. “That’s Kester Serrano. He’s wicked quick.”
Manny gulped and stretched his arms high above his head. They’d be on the track any second now.
“Second section,” called an official. “Let’s go.”
BOOK: Fast Company
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