On Monday I rode my bike to Southeast Junior High in the morning so I could hustle the mile over to East High after classes for the 3:15 practice. I changed into my navy shorts and a white t-shirt in the bathroom stall at the entrance to the high school gymnasium, stopping at the mirror to pull my hair into pigtails before I headed out. I was so nervous as I shuffled towards the cross country coach, dragging my feet across the grass.
Coach Forwald greeted me with a grin as I approached the bleachers by the tennis courts with a backpack over my shoulder, the boys glancing at me as I neared. In the background I could hear whistles from football practice – one of them was dad’s.
“So you’re Joe’s daughter.” I smiled and nodded. “Sarah, right? I nodded again. “Well, I’ll introduce you to the team when they all get here…then just follow along.” He looked over and saw another group walking our way. “Good, Shelly is here.” Coach Forwald waved her over.
“Hey Shelly, this is Sarah Tucker. Sarah is going to join you on the team this fall.” I smiled and nodded awkwardly, uncertain whether I should shake hands. “Shelly’s a freshman.” She was about 5’5”, two inches taller than me, her blond hair tied back in a thick ponytail. I followed her to a seat on the far end of the bleachers. Should I try that instead of pigtails? It looks so much more mature. Shelly smiled at one of the boys and got a nod, but none of the others acknowledged us as we walked past.
“So you’re in 7th grade?” I nodded. “I’m so glad to have another girl. It stinks being the only one.”
When everyone showed up Coach Forwald sent us off on a mile warmup around the school grounds, Shelly pointing at boys up ahead as we jogged behind. I estimated there were about fifteen or sixteen.
“That red-head up front, that’s Mike Gedlinski…and the one beside him is Davey Jones. They’re both seniors and the best ones on the team. And see the one in the black Converse All-Stars?” I nodded as she pointed and grinned. “That’s my boyfriend…Andy Aldeman.”
“Wow. That’s cool.” So that’s why she smiled at the boy earlier. A boyfriend. I doubted I would ever have one.
“He’s a freshman. I’m hoping he will be the top runner on the frosh/soph squad."
Coach Forwald watched as the captains led us through calisthenics, the same ones dad taught us during the summer, waiting as three whistles blasted in the background before he could explain the workout.
“Okay. We’re going to jog down to the track and do 2-man relays, each of you alternating 440’s. We’ll do six and then see how you feel.”
Shelly and I got through the six without problem, some of the relay teams lagging behind us on the last one. I suspected they were freshmen. Even though we didn’t get times I could tell Shelly was a good runner, her technique far smoother than many of the boys. She slapped my hand when I finished the last one, happy with my effort.
Coach Forwald called us together after the last pair of freshmen was done.
“Okay, I want two sets of twenty-five teeter-totter sit-ups and ten push-ups with your partner.”
Shelly plopped on her back in the grass and told me to sit on her feet, lifting her hips so she could sit on mine. I could see what we were doing. She went up until elbows hit her knees, saying “1” as she laid back down, then I went up and down. By ten we had a good sit-up rhythm going. I looked around and noticed we were the third group to finish, a grin our faces.
She rolled over on her stomach into a push-up position with her knees on the ground, nodding at me to follow as she did the first one. After ten we went back to the teeter-totter sit-ups, racing through the twenty-five as fast as we could, making faces at each other after every repetition. We were the second group to finish the ten push-ups. I could tell she wanted to beat all the boys.
“Let’s see how many more 440’s you can handle.” Coach smiled. “I want anywhere from 2-6.”
Two groups quit after two sets, Shelly and I alternating through three circuits of the track, only two pairs making through all six. I was tired but could have done all of them if I had to. When all the boys finished Coach Forwald smiled at us.
“OK. Two more sets of sit-ups and push-ups and then jog four laps around the track for your cool down.”
After we were done coach called Shelly and me over as the boys walked towards the locker room.
“That was a good workout today.” He looked at Shelly. “I could tell it helped to have another girl.” She smiled. Then he looked at me. “And Sarah, you did a good job. Your dad told me you would…he was right.” His words made me beam.
We walked towards the gymnasium talking about the season, Shelly telling me that I could share her PE locker from now on. I’d need to because there was no girls athletic locker room like the boys had. She asked me to wait while she went to the bathroom with a washcloth to clean up, spraying perfume on her neck at the locker before we left for home.
Andy was waiting by the back door, his hair still wet from the shower, reaching out to shake my hand when Shelly introduced me. I grabbed my bike and the three of us walked towards the Court Hill area of Iowa City, splitting up as they went east and I went west.
I took a shower and then did my math homework at the kitchen table while mom made supper, waiting for Steve, Danny, and dad to come home from football practice.
“How did cross country practice go?” Mom looked over her shoulder as she stirred.
“It was fun. I did good. There’s another girl on the team, Shelly Johnson, so I have someone to run with.”
“Great. When is your first meet?”
“Well, the boys have a dual meet on Thursday, but Muscatine doesn’t have any girls, so we won’t run until Saturday, up in Cedar Rapids. Washington has an invitational…at Noelridge Park.