The finish line was just a few feet away. Her closest competitor was mere inches behind. Emily felt the adrenaline kick in as a burst of speed pushed her across the line in front of Angie. The crowd surged to their feet. Emily opened her eyes.
It took a few minutes for her to remember where she was as she pushed the sleep away. Sunlight filled the room as she struggled to sit up. The dream always seemed so real. Much more real than the pain that shot through her leg. Emily tossed the covers aside just as her mother walked into the room.
“Breakfast is ready.” She paused in the doorway. “Are you sure you’re up to this?”
“No, but I’ll never be if I don’t make myself.”
After her mom left, Emily leaned over the edge of the bed to pick up her prosthetic leg. In the months since the accident, she had adjusted to it. Her therapist told her to look at it as an extension of her, like a friend. That was okay for walking to class or going to church. But not so much for running track. She had lost a dream, a part of herself. She wasn’t sure how to find that person again.
Emily walked into the kitchen a few minutes later. Her limp was barely noticeable and the doctors said she would be back to running within a year. Unfortunately, not at competition level. And that’s what hurt most.
“Hi, Dad,” she said, as she slid into a chair. The smell of pancakes brought a smile to her face.
“Ready for the race today?” her dad asked.
She poured syrup on the plate of pancakes her mother set in front of her. “I think so. It will be hard to watch, but the coach wants me there.”
“He doesn’t expect you to make a speech, does he?” her mom asked.
Emily shook her head. “He would like for me to but he doesn’t expect me to do it – at least not today.” She sighed. “I hate to let everyone down, but I’m just not ready to talk about it yet.”
Her dad patted her arm. “Don’t push it. You’ll do it when you’re ready.”
Emily smiled at her dad. How could she tell them she was trying to figure out who she even was? She had always been the track star, in college on a track scholarship with the hope of making it to the Olympics. She’d been good enough, too. Her name was in the papers not just at home, but all over the state. Now that was all gone and she didn’t have a clue where to go from here.
The crowds filled the stands at the track field. Emily waved as a few people called her name. She made her way to the coach who was talking to the other runners. She noticed that they glanced her way and then looked down. It was awkward for all of them; most of them hadn’t even visited her in the hospital. She didn’t blame them, but she knew they saw her as a different person. She was no longer part of the team.
“Hello, Emily. How’s the leg?” Coach Crandall got right to the subject that everyone else would ignore.
“It’s okay. Better every day. I’ll start running on it soon.”
“Good news.” He turned to the other runners. “Go start your warmups.” After they left, he turned to Emily. “I need an assistant coach. I know it’s asking a lot of you, but you’re the best. You’ve got a lot of good advice to give these guys. And it might be good for you to train with them.”
Emily watched the girls doing their stretches. Coach still saw her as a runner even though she couldn’t compete. He said she was the best now, not that she had been. Was she really still the same person even though her body had changed?
As if he could read her thoughts, he spoke. “You’re still a runner. The leg doesn’t matter. Maybe you can’t compete like you did, but being a runner is about what’s on the inside. I don’t think that’s changed.” His gaze went to the girls on the field. “Has it?”
Emily took a deep breath and wiped the tears that threatened. “I’m still a runner, Coach. When do I start?”
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