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Authors: Rich Wallace

Tags: #Ages 8 & Up

Fast Company (5 page)

BOOK: Fast Company
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“I thought you couldn’t stand her.”
“She’s okay. I mean, she’s not exactly what I’d
call sweet, but she’s a good athlete. She’s not so bad if you get to know her.”
“Seems like you’re getting to know her real well.”
“We just
jogged
,” Manny said, getting annoyed. “Drop it, all right?”
“Okay, hotshot.”
“What does it matter to you, anyway?”
“It matters because you’ve always got something else to do these days,” Donald said sharply. “We used to hang out every day, but now it’s like, ‘No, I got a track meet.’ ‘No, I gotta jog with Sherry.’ ‘No, I gotta work out with fat-boy Anthony.’ ”
Donald took a seat at his desk. Manny stared at him for a few seconds. “You could have joined the team,” he said.
“I don’t
want
to join the team. Get it? I don’t want to run.”
“All right,” Manny said. “But I do. What’s so bad about that?”
“Nothing, as long as you remember who your friends are. Me.”
“You’re my friends?”
“I’m your best friend.”
“Yeah.” Manny let out his breath and scratched his head. He started to speak, then stopped.
“What?” Donald said.
“Yeah, you’re my best friend,” Manny said. “But you seem to have a problem with me having other friends. What’s that about?”
Donald gave Manny a hard look. “We used to hang out every day,” he said. “Now you’ve always got something else to do.”
“True,” Manny said softly. They’d been inseparable for the past few years, spending every afternoon at one of their houses or playing basketball at a playground or just hanging out on the Boulevard. But Manny had found something that really excited him, that allowed him to excel as an athlete. Donald wanted nothing to do with it. So what was Manny supposed to do?
The boys were quiet for a minute or so. Donald drummed his fingers on his desk. “So, you want to watch TV?” he asked. “Or play a game?”
“Let’s see what’s on TV,” Manny said. “Maybe make some popcorn or something.”
“Sounds good,” Donald said. And they walked down the stairs to the kitchen.
“One question,” Manny asked. “Why did you put those notes on Anthony’s locker?”
“Who said I did?”
“Who else would have done it?”
Donald looked up at the ceiling with a grimace on his face. “Just having fun,” he said. “Too bad if he can’t take it.”
“He can take it,” Manny said. “But it’s stupid. Knock it off, or I’ll tell him.”
Donald shrugged. “Who cares?”
“I do. I don’t like people making fun of my friends.”
“Your friends,” Donald said with a sneer. “I’m the best friend you ever had. Remember that.”
“I never said you weren’t. What I’m saying is, I’ve got other friends, too. Get used to it. Things change.”
8
Tough Competition
T
he guy seated next to Manny on the basket ball court inside the track had his eyes shut, nodding slowly to the rhythm of the music from his headphones. His shirt said NORTH JERSEY STRIDERS. Other runners were pacing the floor or stretching, all looking intense.
The gymnasium at Fairleigh Dickinson University wasn’t quite as large as the Armory, but Manny was even more nervous for this meet. This wasn’t a relay meet; there were no teammates to help carry the load. In a few minutes, Manny would be out there for the 800-meter race with nine opponents.
He checked his racing shoes—double—knotted with the laces tucked in—massaged his thigh, and took a deep breath. He knew nothing about the other racers, didn’t recognize any of them from the meet at the Armory. This was primarily a New Jersey event.
“Boys’ eleven-twelve 800. Step up.”
Manny got to his feet and bounced in place a couple of times. He was warm and loose. They’d had time to jog a full mile before the meet, and he’d been stretching ever since. The track was the same length as the Armory’s—200 meters—but the turns were flat.
He stepped to the starting line. The runners on both sides of him were tall and leggy. Manny crossed himself and shut his eyes.
“Take your marks,” said the official.
Manny leaned slightly forward and exhaled hard.
“Set.”
He clenched his fists lightly and stared at the track.
The gun fired and Manny surged from the line, darting to the head of the pack to avoid the jostling as runners fought for position. Coaches and teammates were shouting, but Manny’s focus was entirely on the track. He could hear the padding of nine pairs of feet just behind him.
Pace yourself,
he told himself.
Hold the lead, but be smart about it. Long way to go.
Manny’s goal was 2:18, the time Serrano had run at the Armory the week before. Who knew what Serrano would do this week; he was probably racing at the Armory again. All the results of the Armory meets were posted on the Internet, so Manny could compare his progress with Serrano’s and everybody else’s.
“33,” came the call as Manny finished the first lap, still holding the lead. He needed to average under 35 seconds per lap to meet his goal for today. He felt strong.
Manny glanced behind him as he raced along the backstretch. Coach had told him never to do that, but he couldn’t resist. Two runners were just off Manny’s shoulder, but the rest of the field had fallen a few yards behind. These two seemed content to let Manny lead the way.
Each stride felt smooth, but Manny could feel his shoulders beginning to tighten. He passed through the end of the second lap at 67 seconds.
Fast,
he thought.
Got to keep this up.
Coach had told him that the third lap was often the most important one in a four-lap race. The runners were getting tired from a quick start and were saving some energy for a finishing kick. A strong runner could put away the race with a solid third lap. But the temptation was to hold back a little.
Manny surged into the turn, testing his opponents to see if they’d stay with him. They did more than that. The North Jersey Strider runner went wide on the turn and moved into the lead.
Don’t let him get away,
Manny thought.
Stick with him.
They pounded down the backstretch in a tight cluster, but the leader surged again coming off the second turn. Manny opened up his stride on the straightaway, pulling away from the third-place runner and turning it into a two-man race.
“1:43,” came the cry as the bell sounded for the final lap. Manny quickly did the math; that lap had taken 36 seconds. They were slowing down.
So what!
Manny hollered inside his head.
It’s a race! Forget about the time.
Manny moved to the outside edge of the first lane and stuck within inches of the leader. Around the turn and into the backstretch, his aim was to stay with this guy.
Arms pumping furiously, they headed into the final turn, puffing and grunting as they began an all-out sprint. The leader moved out to the line between the first and second lanes, forcing Manny to go even wider if he wanted to get past.
Onto the straightaway, just fifty meters from the finish. Manny dug for everything he had left. Closer, closer, and suddenly he had the lead. Leaning forward with no air in his lungs, his throat burning and his arms feeling like cement. The finish line, the tape against his chest. He won it!
Manny got off the track and settled to his knees. He put his fingertips to his pounding forehead and shut his eyes, gasping for breath. He lowered his hands to the floor and crouched like that for a few seconds, waiting for his head to clear and his breathing to slow down to normal.
Suddenly he felt hands around his waist and was pulled gently to his feet. “Fantastic race,” said Coach Alvaro. “Walk it off, buddy. Don’t lie there in a heap.”
Manny took a few slow steps and inhaled deeply. He looked up at the coach and gave a pained smile. “Caught that sucker,” he said softly.
“You sure did,” Coach said. “You’re a tough little guy, Manny. There’s no quit in you.”
Manny looked up at the bleachers toward his teammates and family. He raised his fist when he locked eyes with his father, then turned to the coach.
“What was the time?” he asked.
“2:19. Pretty darned good.” Coach smiled. “Serrano better watch out, huh?”
Manny gave a tight smile and nodded. He’d used every ounce of strength and speed he had in him. Where would he find even more?
9
A Higher Level
M
anny and Sal got up early Monday morning to have breakfast with their dad before he left for work. Dad drove a truck for a package delivery company and was out of the house before seven every morning. Often he didn’t return until seven at night.
“Will you make us French toast, Daddy?” Sal asked, rushing into the kitchen in his pajamas.
Dad was seated at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee and reading
The New York Times.
He glanced at the clock. “Sure,” he said. “We’ll have to hurry. Get out the bread, Sal.”
Manny took a frying pan out of the cupboard. He turned on the burner and poured oil into the pan.
“I want six pieces!” Sal said. “I’m starving.”
“Let’s start with three apiece,” Dad said, rubbing Sal’s hair. “We can always make more.”
Sal took a seat and tapped his knife and fork on the table. “Can I bring your gold medal for show-and-tell, Manny?” he asked.
Manny nodded. “Yeah. You promise to take good care of it, though. Who knows if I’ll ever win another one.”
“I’m sure you will,” Dad said. “I think you’ve found your sport.”
Sal got up and opened the refrigerator. He took out the carton of orange juice. “You working late tonight, Daddy?” he asked.
“You never know,” Dad said. “Been real busy lately.”
Just then Mom walked into the kitchen. “We’re a busy family,” she said. “I’ve got three active boys here, don’t I?”
“Active and hungry!” Sal said. “You want French toast, Mommy?”
“I sure do. You guys are some team, making this feast so early in the morning. It smelled so good I got up before my alarm.”
Manny set a plate on the table and motioned for his parents to sit down. “You guys eat first,” he said. “Me and Sal will take the second batch.”
“Great,” Dad said. “I’ve got just enough time to eat and get out of here.”
“Not us,” said Sal. “We got an hour. Will you watch cartoons with me after we eat, Manny?”
“No problem,” Manny said. “I hope Bugs Bunny is on.”
 
Manny ran an easy three miles after school. He was feeling good about his performance in Sunday’s meet. He’d made an all-out effort and had nothing left at the end, but Coach assured him that he’d get faster with more training and a bit more racing experience.
Running under 2:20 in just his second 800-meter race was a great indication of Manny’s potential. A guy like Serrano, for example, had three years of racing under his belt. Manny was still a novice, but he knew he’d be ready for the championship race in February.
After dinner, Manny sat down at the computer and found the Armory Web site. He clicked on
Results.
A listing of various meets, mostly high school and college, came up on the screen. He found the youth development meet from the previous Saturday and scrolled through, looking for the results of the eleven-twelve boys’ 800.
There it was. Serrano had won the race, but he must have had quite a battle:
1.
Kester Serrano 2:15.8
2.
Ryan Wu 2:15.9
3.
Oscar Kamalu 2:16.2
4.
Mario Torres 2:17.4
5.
Lyndon Duncan 2:19.9
Manny stared at the screen.
Four
guys had run faster than he had, and there were five others at 2:22 or better. Serrano was right; there were a lot of quick runners around.
Manny had felt like a big deal winning that New Jersey race. Clearly, the guys across the river were running at a higher level.
Manny shut off the computer and climbed the stairs to his room. He checked the schedule Coach Alvaro had given him. They’d be running at the Armory again in two weeks.
Against Serrano and the rest of them.
10
Froot Loops
T
he team trained hard for the next two weeks. Coach Alvaro had Manny concentrate on building his endurance, alternating distance runs with sessions on the track.
“I think you can run with anybody in the region,” Coach told him. “Sure, they’ve run faster times than you have, but we’ll see what happens when you go head-to-head.”
That chance arrived quickly. Manny found himself in the 800-meters at a Saturday morning development meet at the Armory. More than fifty runners were signed up for the event. Manny was among the eight told to report for the top-seeded section.
Kester Serrano looked up at Manny from his seat on the floor, stretching out his legs. “Hey,” he said softly, nodding.
Manny let out his breath. “Hey.”
“Tough field,” Serrano said.
“Yeah. That Wu?” Manny asked, jutting his chin toward a tall Asian kid warming up nearby.
“Yep.” Serrano pointed toward some other runners. “Bertone and Kamalu. The boys are all here, Manuel.”
A roundish official with short dark hair and a microphone said, “Let’s go, gentlemen. On the track.”
Manny had drawn lane two, sandwiched between Wu and Bertone. He knew he’d have to get out quickly. Everybody in the race had put up fast times already this winter.
“Runners set!”
Manny leaned forward. He was the shortest one out there.
The gun went off and the runners darted from the line. Manny tried to squeeze ahead of Bertone, but the bigger runner extended his arm and pushed his elbow into Manny’s ribs. It didn’t hurt and Manny kept his balance, but he was forced to stay in the second lane as they rounded the first turn.
BOOK: Fast Company
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