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Authors: Rochelle Allison,Angel Lawson

For the Win

BOOK: For the Win
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For The Win

 

 

Rochelle Allison

&

Angel Lawson

 

Reporter
: Thinking back to last year, did you ever think you’d be in this position?

Julian
: *Laughs* No. Not at all.

Reporter
: But you’d trained your whole life for this moment — years spent practicing, working out, being selected for elite teams…didn’t it seem like the natural outcome?

Julian
: Yeah, I did do all of that. *Nods* I did everything, right until I didn’t. And when I didn’t, it all blew up in my face.

Reporter
: What do you mean?

Julian
: Do you really want to know?

Reporter
: Our viewers definitely want to know.

Julian
: Okay…let me figure out where to begin…

 

Part 1

Ocean Beach

 

Chapter 1

Even with blackout curtains, the bright glare of the sun wakes me up every freaking day. It’s not the light, but the heat. On cloudy days it warms the top of the van, slowly turning my little house on wheels into an oven.

Today is no different. I shift on the pallet of sleeping bags and blankets I use for a bed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. Outside, there are few sounds other than cars and the morning birds.

I prop open the olive green side doors, allowing the cooler morning air to rush in. Stretching my arms over my head, I inhale deeply, breathing in the fresh, salty, coastal air. My stomach rumbles loudly, ready for breakfast, but I stop first, rummaging in my kit for my blood sugar meter. I prick my finger for the tiny drop of blood I need to check my blood sugar—the first of many times over the course of the day.

The gods are on my side. At 103, my blood sugar is in the normal range—  which means I can get on with my day. I pull out my insulin pump and figure out my dose

From the cooler behind the passenger seat I pull out two boiled eggs, still in their shells, and grab some bread out of the plastic container I use to keep out bugs. I learned
that
lesson the hard way after a bad ant situation in Arizona a couple months ago. 
It’s better to wait a few minutes before eating to let the insulin kick in
, so I sit down with my journal and slowly peel the eggs.

May 15
, I write at the top of the page. This journal, and phone calls from Mom, are my only reminders of the date. For the most part I try not to keep tabs, preferring the more organic freedom of moving at my own pace. Schedules and deadlines are a thing of the past.  

I scribble a few brief notes. One is about the dream I had — snippets of working my way through a complicated obstacle course. I was chasing something, or maybe something was chasing me. I don’t know, but I woke up in a sweat, and it took a couple hours to go back to sleep.

The other is about the last night’s sunset, which I watched from my surfboard, bobbing in the shallows. Surfing is new to me, something I’ve only taken up in the last year. Athletically, it’s way different than anything else I’ve ever done, but the challenge of learning something new and pushing my body to a different level has been revelatory.

At the bottom of the page I make a brief note about Jeremy. He’s 12 years old and the star forward on the Ocean Beach Lightning. After yesterday’s disastrous loss against the Hurricanes, I asked him how he felt about the game. He replied, “I think I did okay,” with an easy-going shrug.

If only I could bottle that self-confidence. I’d be a millionaire.

A gray Mustang pulls into the parking space next to my van. Moments later a man with short, dark — but graying— hair hops out and nods.

“Hey man.” I flip over the cover of my journal, finishing my breakfast in one bite.

“Good morning, Julian,” Edgar replies. In the winter, the Rec Center director wears a light blue sweater and khaki pants. Now, with summer approaching, his uniform has changed to a collared shirt with knee-length shorts. “You still trying to grow that beard?”             

I accept his teasing with a shrug and a smile, touching the hair on my chin. It’s a far cry from the manly-man beard
he’s
got going on, something he loves to remind me. “Yup.”

Edgar fishes the keys to the Rec center out of his pocket and heads to the back door. As he steps under the awning he calls back to me, “Doing all right?”

“Outstanding.” I give him two thumbs up.

Edgar flashes me a wide, white smile. “Good.”

He disappears into the center and I reach for my tennis shoes. Lacing them tight, I strip off my shirt and check my blood sugar once more before I leave, just to make sure. Satisfied everything looks good, I slide from the van, lock up and slip the key under the wheel.

I take off at an easy gait, no longer running for other people—or for some well-oiled machine—but for myself.

 

*

When I first rolled up on Ocean Beach I was tired and mentally beaten. I’d just spent the previous year trying to get my body to function appropriately, and the minute everything stabilized, I took off.  

My final year at Clemson, and the months following, should have been celebratory, a time brimming with hope and promise. Instead, I graduated broke and sick. Between classes and soccer, I hadn’t been able to maintain a job during my four years at Clemson — in fact, I’d barely scraped by on scholarships and loans. Meanwhile, my body was in the worst shape it had ever been in thanks to a series of bad decisions I’d made during that last year of college. I headed home to Atlanta to recoup, wanting to give my body time to rest. I wanted to get my head on straight, too. As an athlete, a lot of my identity was wrapped up in my ability to perform, and when I couldn’t—even temporarily—it messed with me.  

After several weeks at home in bed, though, I knew exactly what I needed: an escape vehicle. My first stop was to cash out my savings account, which I added to the graduation money my mother had saved for me in a neatly stacked pile on my bedroom dresser while I recovered.  I couldn’t afford much, and it took some digging, but I found what I needed to get out of dodge — the literal key to getting my head and health back together.

Sally.

She wasn’t much to look at, drab green and rusted in spots, but she had good bones and together we traveled hundreds of miles across the country. Three months back, I decided to visit the small beach town on the North Carolina coast where my family vacationed when I was a kid.  

I never left.

Sally comes into view toward the end of my run, and I slow to a walk. On cue, my phone erupts with the flying saucer ringtone I designated for my mother. She calls every morning, and I answer without hesitation. “Hey Mom.”

“You’re out of breath—everything okay?”

“Just finishing up my run,” I say, bending to stretch my calves. Heading to the van, I unlock the doors and grab a water bottle from the cooler. “How are you today?”

“The weather is nice,” she says, and proceeds to talk about her little garden on the patio and the tomato plants she planted the day before. I sit on the bumper of the van and kick off my shoes. “Do you have a busy day?”

“No, not really.” We both know this, but it’s her habit to ask.

“Well, I’m sure she told you, but Allie is coming into town today. She’s got a week off before training officially starts.” She keeps her voice even as she says this, likely knowing it could spark a dozen different reactions.

I haven’t spoken to my sister Allie in a while — well, in reality, I haven’t answered her calls in a while — so I didn’t know she was headed home. When I left on my ‘Recovery Tour’, as my family likes to call it, one of our agreements was that I talk to Mom once a day to keep her from worrying so much.  Allie and I made no such agreement. Obviously she hasn’t informed our mother of the lack of communication, and I have no plans to, either.

“Good,” I say after a moment. “I’m sure some rest will do her good. Things are about to get really intense for her.”

“She’s very excited. Between the training, the preliminaries and all the other stuff they have to go through before leaving for Rio in August...the next couple of months will be a whirlwind.”

I look past the Rec Center to the brown, patchy soccer fields on the other side. A couple of boys are already passing a ratty ball around the field. “I bet.”

“Jules, you’re going to have to decide if you want to come with us. Allie has a ticket for you, and I’m sure we can figure out a way to swing the airfare.”

I don’t respond.

“Anyway, there’s still a little time to make decisions like that.”

“Right.”

“You feeling okay, today?”

This is her code. It means
are you eating, sleeping, behaving in a healthy way? Are your levels good? Do I need to come down there?
She tries to hide the worry in her voice, but I put her through enough to accept it will probably never go away.

“Really good,” I say, happy I don’t have to lie. “I probably should go, but, uh, give Allie a hug for me.”

“You can come up here and hug her yourself, you know.”

“I know, but…” I’m not ready. “The kids have a game this week and I really should be here.”

“Of course. Be careful sweetie, and let me know if you need anything.”

“I will, Mom.”

We disconnect and I lean against the van, the sun-hot metal burning into my skin. Sometimes it’s hard, trying to focus on the here and now…and not what might have been.

 

*

Within an hour of arriving in Ocean Beach last year, I found a sweet spot near the inland waterway and set up camp. It was pretty idyllic. At night I left my windows down, enjoying the cool breeze wafting off the water, and every morning I drank my coffee on the small deserted beach. Unfortunately, that only lasted about forty-eight hours before the beach patrol showed up and shooed me away. They nicely directed me toward a variety of campgrounds, but none allowed vans. Out of options, I moved to the local Wal-Mart parking lot.

The benefit of the Wal-Mart was that I didn’t want to spend my days there, so I started exploring the small beach town on bike, foot or in the van. Needing a gym, I discovered the Recreation Center, which thankfully had cheap memberships and a full locker room, including showers. One night, after a workout, I found myself on the soccer fields watching a group of boys scrimmage. It was easy to see these kids were the soccer version of the Bad News Bears, down to the goalie rolling around in the dirt as the ball flew by.

“Hey kid.” I was on my feet, jogging across the field before I’d really thought about it. “Make sure you bend your knees like this and get behind the ball. You want it to hit you right in the center of your chest.”

He wrinkled his nose. “But that hurts.”

“Nah, only for a minute — and not if you catch it right.” I provided an example, clutching the ball tight between my arms and burying it into my chest. The soft weight of the ball in my arms, and the familiar smell of grass on leather brought a swell of emotion.
Nope,
I thought tossing the ball back to the kid.

“Can I help you?”

I looked up and saw a man walking toward us — Edgar, by the name tag pinned to his chest. His eyes looked wary, cautious, and I realized maybe I should have asked permission to come on the field.

“Just showing your goalie some pointers. I’m Julian Anderson. I played some goalie back in the day.”

One of Edgar’s bushy eyebrows arched. “Oh yeah?”

Three days later Edgar had secured my background check and, after a trial practice, made me an official coach. Sweetening the deal, he also offered me and Sally a parking spot behind the Rec Center. Just like that I went from an off-the-grid wanderer to having a semi-permanent home and a kind-of-job—all without anyone knowing anything about me or how I’d gotten there. It was liberating.

Standing on the field now with a bag of balls at my feet and a stack of orange cones in my hand, I can’t help but wonder what my mother was thinking, asking about Rio. Like I can afford it or,
God,
like I can even bear to be there during everything. I’m just not ready. Not mentally, anyway. I push the thought out of my head, focusing instead on the rowdy group of boys racing across the field.

They’re sweaty and loud, with nearly every word that comes out of their mouth inappropriate in that middle school kind of way. They’ve come a long way in the last three months. They’re still not All-Star material, but at least they’re running in the right direction. They’re learning to communicate as a team, and in the last couple of games they’ve managed to get the ball in the net. The right net, too.

“Bring it in,” I call out. Most of the boys run over, balls bouncing off their cleat-clad feet. I zero in on the stragglers, particularly the two boys that, as much as I love them, give me nothing but trouble. “That includes you, Scott. And you, Harrison.”

“Hey Coach,” Jeremy says, “who do you think is gonna win the gold? Germany or Brazil?”

I snort. “After the World Cup showing last year, Brazil better just hope for an invite.”

“Harsh, man,” the kid says, rubbing his hand over his short dark hair. “Who do you think will win it?”

“Maybe the Germans. They can probably keep it together. Their team is still tight.”

“USA!” one of the kids shouts. “They’ll take it all this year.”

“Nah,” I say, shaking my head. “Not this year.”

“Why not?” Harrison asks.

“The women will,” I concede, slyly switching subjects. “The US women’s team will take gold. Mark my word.”

“Girls’ soccer sucks,” Scott declares.

I lift the ball at my feet with my toe and pop it into my hands. “You just earned yourself two laps.”

“What? Why?” Scott frowns. The other boys look at him, amused.

I give him a pointed look. “For talking like a chauvinistic jerk. Two laps. The rest of you give me one. Loser has to run another.”

With that threat they take off in a pack, determined not to come in last.

BOOK: For the Win
3.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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