By Ammar Moussa
I remember a moment during my freshman year at Arcadia High School when I found out that I hadn’t been accepted to the Arcadia Invite “rising stars” mile.
I was crushed and spent an entire night researching each name in the mile, compiling a list of who I was faster than at the time, and badgering meet director Rich Gonzalez with emails as to why I deserved to be in the meet. I bet he could tell you about what an annoying little kid I must have been, but even as a 14-year-old freshman I understood the significance of the meet.
On race day I stood on the fence against the track, with my spikes and singlet in hand, trying to muster up the courage to jump the fence and run towards the starting line and crash the race. Needless to say, I didn’t do it, and I sat there in miserable silence watching the race.
I saw how the stands rumbled with anticipation and excitement for the open races in the dead heat of the day. I had never seen so much excitement for high school running up to that point in my life.
All I wanted was to be a part of that.
No, not just a part of that, I wanted to be the reason for the excitement that was so palpable in the stands.
I was a part of that incredible year when 16 high school boys broke the nine-minute barrier for the 3200 in 2010.
It was a less than memorable performance for me as my 8:58 left me buried in 11th place. I remember being mobbed by teammates, celebrating the fact that I had finally broken nine minutes, but I kept shrugging them off. I didn’t want to just break nine. I wanted to win.
That’s how I wanted to be part of the Arcadia Invite history. I didn’t want to be just an “also-ran”. Jake Hurysz was the historic one that day. He was the one that led those 16 guys under nine.
That’s who I wanted to be.
I knew I wanted to make my mark on the meet, but I realized that the only way I would be satisfied was by winning a race.
The special eight-lap race under the lights, the marquee event.
The summer before my senior year started, the Arcadia High track was resurfaced and the stadium renovated. One day after summer practice, I snuck past the construction, jumped a fence, and wandered onto the new track.
The lanes hadn’t even been painted on yet. The track was bouncy and still hadn’t been broken in. It glowed as the sun was setting, and just looked like it was on fire.
Sure, it sounds cliché, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I took a slow lap around the track, visualizing the race that I would be racing in eight months’ time.
I remember telling myself that my high school career would not be complete without winning the Arcadia Invite 3200. All the titles and Team USA gear in the world would not be enough to satisfy the desire to win that oh so special 3200 at Arcadia.
I wanted to join the ranks of past Arcadia champions. I wanted to join the likes of American record holders and Olympians. The men who I looked up to in the running world all had “Arcadia Invitation champion” on their resume and I wanted to join them in any way I could, and I knew that the first step was to win the Arcadia Invite.
That night in April, when the lights are on, and you look to your right, look to your left, you realize that you’re standing amidst the best high school runners in the country.
When you look at the lap counter before the race and see the “8” on there, know that eight laps separate you from potential history, from a nearly guaranteed PR, and the memories to last a lifetime.
Good luck to all those running in the highly esteemed meet, and good luck to all those who aspire to be on that track one day.
Ammar Moussa is a student athlete at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he runs on the cross country and track and field teams, most recently contributing to CU’s 2013 NCAA cross country title. Ammar is a graduate of Arcadia High School and was the 2011 Arcadia Invitational 3200 meter champion.