Words by: Kimberly Hyacinthe
Illustrations: Sarah Cotton
Basketball was my first love. I played it during most of my high school. So when one of my friends asked me to join her in entering a regional track and field school race, I refused. I thought it was something like the cross-country races we had to do in the fall for gym class. I was good at it, but I wasn’t a fan, because lungs and legs burning, you know. I didn’t really understand what the sport was and I wasn’t interested. Basketball was life. And I also had signed up for flag-football for the spring. My friend pointed out to me that I was pretty fast on the court and that I could probably do one of the sprint races. She also said that it would probably mean that we miss two days of school because of the competition. That’s pretty much all it took to convince me to sign up for this track and field thing. Not me thinking that I could have some potential, but the missing school part.
Picture me, this 5’9 skinny, tree branch looking, baby giraffe-like teenage girl, with her low white and red Adidas basketball shoes, shiny red basketball shorts that stopped just above my knees, and my white gym t-shirt with my school’s logo on the front. I also had these fake black and reddish twists/dreads as a hairdo. So yeah, scrawny teenage Kim, just showing up to the track. Not even knowing what to do. I started to observe what the other schools where doing, since our school did not have a track coach. Our team was basically me, my friend and two other students that actually did track. Basically, my friend and I were on our own.
A couple of minutes before my race, I did a little jog, a little stretch here and there and some skips that I had seen other competitors do. Then up I went against kids who had track spikes on and knew how to use starting blocks. Mind you, I had entered the 100 meters and the 200 meters. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t even know what starting blocks were!
For the first round of the 100 meters, I just waited for the commands and went the hardest I could. I qualified for the final. I had no idea what times were good or not. I just remember running something like 13 seconds. Which, with hindsight, was not very good. Later that afternoon, I lined up for the final. I remember being a bit jittery. I didn’t know my opponents and didn’t really care to be honest. At that point, all I cared about was to be the first at the finish line. I just wanted to win. And I did just that. I won my first 100 meters final. At the school regionals in Montreal. I was ecstatic. Even though I didn’t really understand the sport. It was just racing to me. Same as when I was a little kid racing my friends at the park or in the streets of Montréal-Nord.
Winning the 100 meters was great, but I had entered another race for the next day: the 200 meters. I had no idea, but that distance would become my favourite, even to this present day. I don’t remember much about the preliminary round, but I remember the final very vividly. I remember it because it was pouring rain. I didn’t understand why the competition was still on. What do you mean, I’m still suppose to race with my wet uniform? I don’t like rain and I hate – yes hate – having wet feet. I did as little warming up as possible and went to the start line for my 200 final.
As I am standing in my lane, I notice the competitor on my right. She is all decked out in spikes, long tights and a sports tank top. She looks like a professional runner. All the other athletes there are looking at her as well. Everybody (including me) is thinking that girl is going to win. She knows what she’s doing and she’s got that winner attitude.
Before the starter said the famous “on your marks”, he looked at me and said: “Don’t start too hard because you’re going to slip and fall”. I still had on my basketball shoes and one thing that spikes do is get grip the track. All I did on the court was wipe my shoes with my own hands so I wouldn’t slide. Needless to say I didn’t listen to the starter and when he fired the gun, I started the fastest I could. On my second step, I slipped and my limbs went flying everywhere. I fell face first on the track. I got back up as quick as I could and tried to start running again, but the starter actually called back the race. He didn’t have to do that. I guess he saw something in me, believed in me. He said: “I told you not to start too quick, the track is slippery and you don’t even have spikes on!” So back to the start line I went, and this time, I went out super slow. I looked up and the girl on my right was so far ahead. I just started thinking, I have to chase her. In the last 5 meters of the race, I caught her and won. I couldn’t believe it. Neither could she, or anyone else watch the race.
At the end of the competition, that girl’s coach came to me and said that I should take up the sport. He directed me to a superintendent at my school who was actually a track coach and would become my first coach. After winning those two regional races, I had qualified to go to the provincial championships and there, I went on to win 2 medals which granted me tickets to go watch the World Youth Championships taking place in Sherbooke in 2003. That’s where the fire was sparked and I decided to take track and field seriously to eventually be able to represent Canada.
Every time I start doubting myself, or I hit road blocks, I think about younger Kim. She didn’t care about the obstacles. She didn’t care that she didn’t have the best track spikes or attire. She just went for it. These past couple of years, I’ve had to remind myself that right at the beginning, experts in the sport saw something in me, in that skinny tall girl with the basketball shoes who whooped well trained athlete’s butts and that it is still within me.