From the look on his face, I could tell he wasn't kidding and I dreaded our next session.
As it turned out I got to postpone the next training session for two whole weeks. On the Monday night before we were due to meet again, my dad went to bed and didn't bother getting up again. Ever. The heart that he'd worked so hard to make strong, decided it had had enough for one lifetime and quit. He was 55. I wanted to crawl into bed and never get up again, too, but Harry Tate wouldn't stand for it. "You have to be strong for your mom," he told me. He'd been right once already: I never did get up the courage to tell my dad I loved him, and now it was too late. I thought that this time I ought to take Harry's advice.
For the next three months, Harry pushed my body to its limits and filled my head with his motivational babble. Every session hurt, every week I wanted to quit and tell him and his sports psychology to "Sod off!" (something British people do say), but I kept showing up and before long, just as Harry had promised, I did do the hill repeats for a warm-up.
One Saturday, as the championships drew closer, Harry drove me out to the local countryside and pointed to a radio tower perched on top of the highest hill around. "We're going to run that hill and look down on that tower," he said. By now I knew not to doubt him.
We parked in the village at the foot of the hill and began the slow slog up a narrow lane. Harry jogged along in silence beside me. I kept my head down and my mind on everything he had taught me. I visualized the Championships, imagined the smell of the Scottish pines and felt the cool misty air. I pictured myself dressed in my team colors—my red, black, and white orienteering suit—map in one hand, compass in the other, coolly plotting my course to the first checkpoint. I focused on the road ahead, muttering to myself like a crazy person, "This is my hill, this my hill." Even when it started to drizzle, I just laughed at the sky for believing a little rain could deter the soon-to-be British Orienteering Champion.
Before long, the road disappeared in a wet sheen of asphalt that blurred into the slate grey sky beyond. I surged past Harry and crested the hill to a panorama of rugged moorland and sweeping valleys beyond. A dark shadow loomed in my peripheral vision, and there, clinging to the hillside way down below, was the radio tower. I felt a surge of pride. Harry Tate had believed I could do this, and I had.
"You gotta push through the summit," he said with a grin, as he caught up to me. "Let's go." He ran past me and off into the distance. I glanced back at the road home, then trudged wearily after him, along the lane that wound around the hillside and became a narrow track across the moors beyond.
For close to an hour, we ran. My legs felt leaden and the light drizzle turned into a persistent rain. My hair dripped, my clothes were sodden, and I could feel my legs glowing pink and frozen inside my pants. My championship spirit was wearing thin. Finally, we turned down a familiar lane and I eased into cruise mode for the gentle jog home. But Harry had other plans. "Alright," he said, "Let's go!" I watched as his squat legs quickened and he ran off ahead of me. "Let's go!" he yelled over his shoulder.
I didn't want to go. I wanted to be home, in a hot bath. I wanted warm pajamas and my Mum's homemade chicken soup. I glared into the back of Harry's head. You sadistic bastard, I thought. Don't you know I could get injured? Are you even qualified to be a coach? He must have felt me, because he turned and grabbed my arm, pulling me along beside him. "You can do this," he said. I shook my head. Tears began to prickle my eyes. Running's stupid, I thought. Orienteering's stupid. Sports psychology is the stupidest of all.
"Come on," he said. "Do it for your dad."
My dad's crooked smile flashed in my mind and I saw him racing me up the hills near home, promising me extra pocket money if I beat him. I laughed at the memory and the tears spilled over their rims. Something surged through my veins and into my muscles, and in the next instant I was gone, splashing through the mud, stride after long loping stride, down the lane towards the finish line.
I heard Harry's voice in the distance as I pelted into a clump of trees. "Atta girl!" he yelled. "Now you're cooking on gas."
And then I was alone, with the sound of raindrops in the trees above and my powerful footsteps crunching in the gravel below. It was just me, just me and my dad running together. It felt as if we could run forever. I glanced at the grey sky and opened my mouth to the rain. I smiled and whispered into the air. "I love you."
I didn't win the British Championships that year—not even close. Harry Tate had made me tough and fast, but that didn't matter a damn bit when I set off with my map pointing in the wrong direction. Still, in those three short months he gave me an even greater gift than a championship medal; he gave me precious time alone in the company of my dad, and a way to be with him whenever I wanted.
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Lost and FoundNon-Fiction
When 15-year-old Lisa Manterfield discovers the sport of orienteering, the self-described "uncoordinated nerd" unearths a deep passion and an unexpected athletic talent. But when tragedy strikes, she finds strength and the healing power of solitude...