I used to be fast. Or rather, I used to think I was fast. When I was six or seven years old I won a blue ribbon. A blue ribbon, mind you, not a red or a white one. It said, “First Place” in nice, flaking gold lettering and had a white piece of string dangling from a small tin eyelet. Of course, looking back, I think the most plausible explanation has to be that my competition wasn’t slower – they just couldn’t run straight. As I was the only one able to follow a chalk outline, I won by default.
When I was nine or ten, I paired my talents of direction and sprinting and managed to hurt myself. We were playing capture the flag and my team’s best player was “captured.” Silas McFall ran faster than I did (believe it or not) and usually won the game for us, stealing the flag three times or more. He was our clench man and I couldn’t have him stranded behind enemy lines. The rules dictated that the only way one could free one’s teammate from The Wall was to run, untagged, across The Border, and tag the imprisoned teammate, at which point the liberated teammate was free to attempt to either steal the flag, or to return to his/her own territory and regroup.
Such rescues were not successfully completed without a plan, so I scouted the enemy’s strategy and found a weakness. It stemmed from the simple observation that all of the players that could actually run were attempting to steal our flag, and those that were either too slow or too lethargic were left behind to “defend” the flag and prisoners. Targeting the most rotund and shiftless of the group, I dashed across The Border full speed directly toward my appointed enemy, face set in a horrible grimace, arms outstretched and screaming a war cry that probably sounded like a wet and yelping puppy.
The expression on his face immediately reflected my desired result: it was a combination of surprise and I-just-crapped-my-pants horror that made me smile despite my best efforts to be terrifying. My intentions were simply to scare him away from guarding The Wall and to dodge the rest of the defenders long enough to tag Silas so that he could return to his duties as Flag Capturer. My reasoning followed that even if I should be tagged after freeing Silas, my sacrifice would be for the betterment of The Team, and ran as fast as I possibly could to accomplish this goal. I had plotted the most direct path to Silas and was just about to tag his hand and run by when the unthinkable happened. I never expected him to move.
My plan was rigid and simply did not account for such things. And of course, because I was running at full speed and this happened no less than four feet from The Wall, I changed course so that I would not collide with Silas, tagged him, and ran face first, full throttle, into the corner of the wall. It didn’t give.
I lay there like a wounded soldier, weeping bitterly from what I thought to be a fatal blow as the blood gushed from my abused nostrils and split lip. Turned out it wasn’t fatal. It wasn’t even serious. I was just another wailing kid with a bloody nose.
This wouldn’t be the last time I sacrificed my body (wittingly or otherwise) for the good of the game. Most involve my head. It really is a wonder I can still function at all.