This Underdog Story began in the spring of 2004…
My childhood friend Thomas and I were set to run our biggest race of the year at our middle school track & field championships — the 400-meter dash. We waited nervously on the grass of the infield for our respective heats to begin.
Our stiffest competition was Gayle Middle School, home to bearded, six-feet tall eighth graders hopped up on lunch room hormones. These were school-aged children in the bodies of grown men, with deep, post-pubescent voices steeped well into baritone range. The Gayle Panthers were the living embodiment of what happens when puberty strikes early, education starts late, and the average middle school lunch paired steroid-laced chicken nuggets with pint-sized chocolate milk cartons. Then there was me, the thirteen-year-old toothpick who was mistaken for his sister whenever he picked up the house phone. So naturally, when one of the bearded giants bellowed “good luck” in my direction, I trembled.
While sitting in the grass of the infield, counting down each heat in anticipation of my own, I noticed a patch of green clovers poking up from between my crisscrossed legs. Growing up, I would spend countless hours in similar patches, searching for four-leaf clovers alongside my sister, as a self-created game only kids would come up with. After countless hours of practice, we became pretty good at it. If four-leaf clover hunting were an actual sport, the two of us were en route to becoming first round draft picks out of grade school.
So, in an effort to keep my mind off of my upcoming foot race with the eighth-grade Goliaths, I bragged to Thomas about my hidden “superpower” of finding four-leaf clovers at will. Initially unentertained, he started to play along, and then challenged me to find one before our race heats began. I accepted – mainly to distract myself from the competition – keeping to myself the fact that I hadn’t found a single four-leaf clover in years.
After searching for a few minutes and finding nothing, the words of that twenty-something thirteen year-old rumbled tauntingly in my ears on repeat: “GOOOOD LUUUUCK”. Finding a four-leaf clover was no longer an option, but a necessity. Thomas’s heat was called before mine, and he left for the starting line. As he walked away, I guaranteed him that I would have a clover in hand by the time our respective heats were completed. He rolled his eyes, unaware that this search was no longer about a dumb bet, but about my survival. How in the world would I outrun these “kids” whose knees came up to my chin? I needed all the help I could get, and a four-leaf clover would be the perfect good luck charm.
Sure enough, I found one just as Thomas lined up for his race. “Still got it”, I thought to myself. He wouldn’t see me pluck it from the ground, but this was for the best — it would be my good luck charm, and, I could show it to him after finishing the race.
My heat was called, so I stuck the clover in the right leg of my Under Armour shorts, and headed to the starting line
The gun went off. Fifty-eight seconds later, between the grace of God, and the luck of the four-leaf clover in my shorts, I crossed the line ahead of the bearded giants alive, setting a new personal best in the process. Happy was an understatement, but I was equally as excited to honor my bet with Thomas on the infield.
Walking toward him with a smug grin, I reached for the clover in my shorts, but it wasn’t there. I checked the left side. No dice. The four-leaf clover which I had committed to find, and then found, was now lost, and I had nothing to show for it. Thomas shook his head in disapproval.
Twelve years later, he would be among the audience in Rio de Janeiro, watching me compete at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Track & field became a significant part of my life throughout the years, funding my college education, and showing me the world in the process. But while the sport had provided opportunities I’d only dreamed about as an eighth-grader, it didn’t bring another four-leaf clover.
Until one day in April 2017, eight months after competing in the Rio Olympics…
That morning, I woke up inspired to chart my own course yet again, step out of my comfort zone, and commit myself fully to sharing all that I’d learned along my journey as an athlete. At an afternoon training session, I knelt to tie my shoe which had come loose while running on the track. Right in front of me was a small clover patch, just like the one in which I’d found myself years earlier. Without thinking, I moved closer to it.
Waving in the breeze beneath my gaze was a four-leaf clover. I established The Daily Athlete that day, and countless clovers have “found me” since.