Winning Essay by Grayson K. from Texas attends University of Texas at Austin

As a freshman in high school, I loved playing sports and competing, and cross country was one of these sports. I came out of middle school having won many cross-country races, so I felt very confident in my ability to compete at the next level, but of course with everything in life, I had a few obstacles, and one of these was a certain very hard workout we did with the team.

The workout was twenty 400 meter sprints around the track all under 75 seconds, and my coach, Kendrick Smith, considered this to be “death” because of its intensity. One by one we sprinted, getting more fatigued as we went on. Finally, the team and I reached the 20th sprint. We were all wincing in pain, and at this point I kept telling myself I can’t go any further, until Coach Smith said, “Boys, this last one I want y’all to run under 70 seconds. If y’all can accomplish that, I will call each one of you men because this is a workout that separates boys from men.” That quote stuck me. With the finish line only a few feet away I made one last push. The next thing I knew I looked at my watch and I, along with the rest of the team, ran a 65 second 400. We did it.

This one workout changed me more than any school related activity I have ever been involved in. From then on, every basketball game, track meet, test, project, speech, or interview, if I was falling behind or felt myself losing hope, I would remind myself of that early morning at the track when everyone else was in bed. One last push and I could achieve my goal. I will carry this experience on for the rest of my life. One day, hopefully, I can experience the gratification I did that day, and at that point, I can look back and appreciate that inner strength I found that turned me from a boy into a man. This is all thanks to my cross-country coach and mentor Kendrick Smith. He taught me how to find the strength inside myself that would get me through challenges like these. He helped shape me into the athlete and man I am today, and pushed me to find out who I really was as a person. You can’t put a price on relationships like these. It’s these bonds you form with people that carry on forever, and even though you might not know it yet, one day you’ll look back and appreciate what these people did for you. The impact Coach Smith had on me throughout my high school career is something I will always be grateful for. I hope to carry on what he’s taught me to many aspects of my life, to my future co-workers, teammates, and children, and I hope these people too, get that gratification I did from Coach Smith that day.


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