“Focus. You can do it.”
The course lay before him, illuminated brighter and whiter than day by the spotlights surrounding it. He could barely see the audience, though light fell upon them, too, since the cameras filmed them when the runners weren’t in action. All he could see was the course, and that should have been all that matters.
He rolled his shoulders. Soon, the alarm would sound, and he would be off through the obstacles. He cracked his neck. He was tense. That was bad. Whenever he practiced at home, things went much better when he was loose. Relaxed. The obstacles became, if not easy, at least fun. It became closer to something he liked, if he thought about it as something he was doing for himself. For his enjoyment.
“Come on. Clear your head. Focus, Ty.”
He closed his eyes for a moment, bouncing back and forth on his toes. Focus. The crowd is far from silent, but all he can hear is his dad’s voice in his head, pushing him forward. His father is convinced that every time he makes a mistake, it’s because he’s lost his concentration for a moment. “Focus” has become a mantra, for his father. For Ty, it’s a distraction.
He noticed this a long time ago, playing video games. When he tried to hard, or got too caught up in doing everything just the right way because he watched a video on it or because he wasn’t as practiced with a game or a character within it, he did worse. He did much better when he could relax and let everything come naturally.
“Ty! Where’s your head, man? Focus. It’s all about the focus.”
If it weren’t for his father, he wouldn’t be here. Guy had paid the fees. He’s paid for Ty to get here. He’d built the course in their backyard, less than a month after Ty had told him he liked this show and he thought the people on it were “so cool.” He’d driven Ty to practice, to work out and get out there and do the thing that intrigued him.
Ty was in the best shape of his life. Before he’d started training for this, he’d been just a skinny, weak little thing who played video games all day. Now he barely had time for games at all, between school and going to the gym and working on the training course at home. And now this, the big day, where he’d finally be running the course for real.
The truth was, he didn’t really want to be here. He wasn’t very good at running even the practice course Guy had built, and while he liked watching the show, after a while, the practice hadn’t become any fun at all. It had just been him working hard while his father yelled at him to work harder. He would rather have been in the house, playing a game with his friends.
He would rather be there now, to be honest. He didn’t want to be here, with all of these people watching him. At the same time, he didn’t want to disappoint his father. At some point — perhaps right at the moment his father had heard those words, that Ty was interested in this show — Ty’s dream had become his father’s dream. Now Ty didn’t have the dream at all, and the whole reason he was here today was because his father wanted something for and from him that he didn’t even want anymore.
“You’re distracted again, goddammit. Get your head in the game. Focus.”
The buzzer sounded. He could feel his time begin to tick upward. He could feel the eyes on him: the audience, the officials, the cameras, and, most of all, his fathers. Already he was failing him by not moving. He took a step forward. A slow step, far removed from the instant, jolting run he saw from most of the contestants.
He swore he heard that one in real life. He couldn’t be sure if it was in his head or not. It didn’t really matter. The effect was the same. He focused. He brought his thoughts together, tightening them up and clearing out everything that didn’t matter. What did matter to him?
He turned away, from the crowd and from the course, and jumped off the starting platform to one side. He didn’t want to do this. This wasn’t his dream. Ty walked away.