The piercing noise of Coach Coffee’s whistle reminded me that I was, yes, still alive and, shit, had to get going. Anyone with more than five working brain cells remained inside their home, which they kept refrigerator temperature, or posted up, almost nude, next to a pool. Not us. We called ourselves sole sisters, some called us madwoman, but to all we were the Highland Park High School Ladies Cross Country team.
The orange-ish yellow hue in the late afternoon, August sky beat down on suburbia and made all 150 of my teammates look like wild animals in the Sahara, lurking around the ice-bucket-watering-hole. The past week had been Dallas’ hottest on record, and with temperatures well past 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it should have been illegal to leave the house. Amid the perpetual sauna of the outdoors, here I was, running as fast as I could for two miles during practice. Three quarters into my first lap, I thought about turning the coaches into Child Services on charges of cruelty.
During my third lap, I realized the trees looked like they would go inside if they could. Their branches drooped. Their leaves appeared brown and dry. The sun attacked them like it did us, mercilessly. In three weeks time we’d all have to account for our sports bra shaped tan lines when choosing homecoming dresses. Our faces appeared perpetually tomato red, part from sunburn part from exertion. Whether running or taking times, everyone looked like they jumped into a body of water but, nope, just perspiration.
From the curve of my 5th lap, I saw my friend Anna Caroline faint a few feet behind me (a normal occurrence). The girls running behind leaped over her like a hurdle. The assistant coaches dragged her onto the dry, brown grass and put ice on her veins for a few seconds before it turned into water. Like smoke coming off a frying pan, you could see the heat rising from the asphalt as we ran on top of it. I felt like an egg myself, getting fried and turning tough.
Lap 7, I didn’t think I’d survive. I loved running, I knew I had a talent for it, but crank the temperature to 110 degrees Fahrenheit and forced running becomes a form of legal torture. Your legs transform to noodles. Two miles feels like twelve. You’re so dizzy from dehydration that your vision starts to go in and out.
At the end of lap eight, I had just enough fuel left to make it to the ice bucket. I ran the last race of the day; practice concluded. I looked around for my friend and chauffeur, Georgia, in the animalistic chaos of carpool. I unlocked my phone to call her when I noticed a text she’d sent an hour before. “Hey. I thought I might die out there. I quit the team before my race. Give me a call when you want me to pick you up.”
“You’re a wimp,” I mumbled as I jumped in her car, air conditioning blasting, and got sweat marks all over the seat. We headed straight for her pool.