Last week our family decided to blow off school and work, and head to California for some sun and sand. I reminisced aloud to my four children about the Spring break trips our track team took to Newport Beach when I was in college. Our coaches saved money from some of our other trips during the year, so that our week-long trip during Spring break, with a few low-key track meets to make it legit, was special.
On the second day with my family in the hotel I searched for the nearest grocery store, and discovered a “Ralph’s” right around the corner. Something seemed familiar. It wasn’t until later that afternoon, as we navigated our way back to the hotel, that I noticed the name of the road we were on.
“Jamboree Road!” I blurted out. Then I saw a sign for UC Irvine, the site of our track meets when we were on our Spring break trips all those years ago.
“This is right near the place we used to stay when I was in college!” As we rounded the bend I looked up at our hotel, seeing it with new eyes.
“This is it!” I exclaimed. “We are staying at the exact same hotel our team stayed at on all our Spring break trips in college!”
There had to be hundreds of hotels we could have picked in the area, but somehow my husband unknowingly booked the one that held a treasure trove of memories for me.
“And Ralph’s! We always went to Ralph’s when we came!” I pointed out the trail that we ran on down by the river, and the hill we climbed to gain access to the track off in the distance.
Back in the hotel I recognized the pool, restaurant, and lounging areas on the room floors where my teammates and I talked, flirted with the guys, stretched, and thought about upcoming races, or planned what we were going to do for fun that night.
Once I dyed my hair dark brown in that hotel because it was a rainy night and the girls in my room were bored. On one of the spring break trips I intentionally ignored a boy on our team I was pretending to not like. I recall card games in our rooms long after we should have been asleep, and going to the mall, beaches, and restaurants nearby.
I almost drowned at Newport Beach on one of our trips. Inexperienced with the ocean, a few of us naively went out too far and got caught in a riptide. “Friendly surfer Tracy” with the gold tooth dragged me back to the shore and said earnestly, “My name is Tracy. I want you to always remember that.” I always have.
Somehow, despite the fact that we played so hard, ate all the wrong foods, and slept so little, we always seemed to get our best times at those track meets. The coaches didn’t put much pressure on us. We didn’t plan our strategy, scope out the competition, or visualize, like we did at other, more important, track meets. We liked to bragged about things like eating a hotdog an hour before running the best race of our lives, or showing up to our race just in time to get to the starting line, and then beating our personal record. I remember running in a race that was not my normal event, and outkicking a girl, whom I later found out was an All-American. My freshman year I watched in awe as a guy on our team qualified for the Olympic Trials. There was something magical in the air at those spring break track meets.
Being at that hotel now, years later, with my husband and four children in tow, seemed so strange. I wanted them to know all I experienced there, yet there was no way for them to understand what those memories held for me. Life was so simple then compared to now. That was before I knew who I would marry, before kids, before much responsibility, before cancer.
I’m happy, but not carefree. I worry about my kids, my husband, and my health. We went on this trip to get away from real life for a week, and somehow we ended up in a place that caused me to reflect more on my life. It didn’t seem like a coincidence to me.
I thought back to the worries I had when I was in college. I worried about grades, boys, and my next race. I didn’t have much money at all, but I didn’t really worry about that.
I marveled at those races we ran over spring break. Why did we run so well when we seemed to not prepare for those races? Isn’t preparation usually a good thing?
Then I realized, we were prepared for those races. We had been training all season, and were experienced in racing. We knew the best strategies for our races from hundreds of previous track meets. It wasn’t necessary to know the competition before we raced them. In fact, sometimes we were more confident in our abilities to beat the competition when we didn’t know how good they were supposed to be.
Back in college, I had no idea what the future would hold, but I didn’t worry too much about it.
Now, I am still uncertain about the future, but too often I let myself worry about the unknown. When I am living in the moment and take a look at my beautiful children and amazing husband, I am truly happy.
I’m in a battle with cancer, but I feel more capable when I don’t worry about the competition. For now I am winning the race.
I’m more prepared for challenges than I used to be. I have had hundreds of them in the past. Worrying more is not the answer. When I place less pressure on myself, but rely on wisdom gained from life’s experiences, I free myself up to succeed. Confidence, not fear, is the answer.
Looking at my family, I am more confident than ever before that I know how to make good decisions. Having an element of the unknown in the future makes life interesting and full of possibility.
My children may not have known that college girl, who was the younger version of their mom, but I know her. She was fearless, and she’s still inside of me.