Saturday, October 7, 2017

Unexpected Hero - Guest post with Danielle Hammelef

Two weeks ago I had a writing contest and today I am delighted to share the winning story and introduce you to the author!  So, without further ado, Danielle's story! :)   

Danielle S. Hammelef

I crossed the finish line a million miles in last behind the other cross country runners on my team. I limped a cool-down lap around the school track, my knees burning as if I’d skidded across the sun during the race, instead of the asphalt road.
“Amy, are you okay?” My teammate Emma jogged up beside me.  
I nodded, but I really wasn’t. I ached inside and out. “I’ve been practicing every day. State Meets are next week and I don’t think I’m fast enough to win.”
“If it’s any help, you’ve really improved your pacing.”
I swiped sweat from my forehead. “I wish I’d get faster sooner. I just want to go home and not think about racing the whole weekend.”
“But what about tomorrow?” asked Emma. “You’re going, right?”
My shoulders slumped. “Special Olympics! I forgot. Why didn’t our troop vote to pick up trash in the park instead?”
Emma stretched, touching her toes. “I think helping at Special Olympics will be much more fun than picking up stinky trash for our My Community Badge.”
“But what if we have to talk to the athletes?” I asked. “What do we say?”
Emma shrugged. “I think we cheer for them like, ‘you can do it!’”
I knew nothing about Special Olympics except that it’s a sport competition for people with mental disabilities. I’d never met anyone like that before. And now tomorrow I’d be working with lots of Special Olympics athletes. “Maybe I’ll get a job filling water cups.”
Emma stopped mid-lunge and squinted up at me. “You act like they have a contagious disease or something. My mom says they’re people just like us, except they may need a little extra help sometimes.”
“But they aren’t like you and me,” I thought.
I worried the rest of Friday and all the way to the high school Saturday morning.  
Olivia, one of the girls in my troop, pinned a volunteer badge on me. “We’re going to be “huggers.”
“Huggers?” I asked, my voice squeaking. I didn’t think there was any hugging involved in track events, just high-fives.
“We hug the athletes after they cross the finish line,” Olivia explained. “Then we take them to the scoring tables to get their times and then to the awards table for their medals.”
My stomach dropped to my sneakers.
I must have looked scared because Olivia added, “It’s easy and fun. I’ve done it lots of times. It’s so much better than filling up water cups like Emma and Jessica.” She nodded across the field where Emma and Jessica scrambled to keep enough cups filled for everyone.
I couldn’t believe how many people were here—way more than for my middle school meets. I wouldn’t like losing in front of this many people.
After the high school band finished playing the National Anthem, the crowd recited the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Olivia dragged me to our spot near the finish line. “The first race is the 50 meter. My older sister Marissa is in lane two.”
“What’s your sister doing in this race?” I asked.
“She’s running. What do you think she’s doing?”
Then I knew why Olivia was such a Special Olympics expert. “Your sister’s mentally disabled?”
“I don’t think of her that way. She just has Down Syndrome.”
The starting gun popped. The racers sped toward us. Marissa crossed the finish line fourth. She raised her arms, whooping as if she’d won.
Olivia stepped onto the track and hugged a racer.
I froze, not knowing how to offer a stranger a hug.
But I didn’t have time to figure that out—Marissa skipped over to me and waited with open arms.
I patted her back and said, “Better luck next time.”
Marissa squeezed me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me to the scoring table. I was getting used to being dragged around today. But now I knew where Olivia got it from. While I waited, I whispered to Olivia, “Why is Marissa so happy? She lost.”
“She’s just excited to race,” Olivia said.
The 100 meter was next. Marissa took her mark in lane four. She got set and at the gun, flew out of the start. One girl raced ahead of Marissa, but Marissa closed the gap. I cheered her on. “Go, Marissa! You can do it!”
Then the leader stumbled and tumbled on the track. I grimaced, remembering my wipeout yesterday. My knees ached all over again.
But instead of going for the victory, Marissa stopped and helped her up. Arm-in-arm, Marissa and the fallen racer crossed the finish line in a tie for last.
I stared, open mouthed in Marissa’s direction. How could Marissa give up the chance to win? Wasn’t winning the most important thing? When I fell, no one on my school team stopped.
The Special Olympics oath echoed through my brain again as Marissa and I proceeded to the time table. I didn’t understand the oath before, but thanks to Marissa, I think I did now. I was right. These athletes are different than my friends and me. Unlike us, Marissa knew winning wasn’t the most important part.
When the 800 meter was announced, only Marissa lined up.
I turned to Olivia. “Where’s everyone else?”
Olivia sighed. “This happens a lot with the long race. Marissa just races herself.”
I huffed. “But that’s like memorizing lines for a play and nobody buying tickets!”
Dressed in my scout uniform, I lined up next to Marissa. We high-fived and crouched to race.
Marissa won fair and square. I gave her an Olympic-size squeeze. This time, losing didn’t sting liked scraped knees.
Olivia and I watched Marissa receive her gold medal.
Marissa slipped it over my head. “For you.”
I cradled the medal in my hands. I felt as if I was running on air.
“I think Marissa has a new hero,” Olivia said.
I smiled at Marissa. “I think I do too.”

Ah!  I just love it!

About the Author:
Danielle enjoys writing for children and has had her short stories, articles, poetry, and puzzles published in magazines including Highlights and Pockets. She also plays her flute in her community band and spends time with God and his creation every morning while she runs. Dark chocolate is always in her desk drawer. She lives with her husband and three daughters, her golden retriever, and eight aquatic frogs.

Thank you so much for sharing your lovely story with me/us, Danielle!  I've so enjoyed this writing contest adventure and may have to try another one, sometime. 
I also think I would quite like to have more guest posts . . . . I'll have to work on that.  :)

As always, thanks so much for stopping by and I hope you're having a fantastic day!

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