Saturday. The first day of the weekend, the first day of freedom at the end of every week at school. Saturday was always a day of great anticipation for me during my younger years. It signified not only the beginning of a weekend away from the rigours of Primary school and learning my times tables, but also my first real social experiences. Saturday was ?Club Day?.
At around the age of 8 or 9, my Mum decided that I needed to get out into the real world and get a taste of ?Saturday life?, and all it had to offer. So, on the advice of my much older and wiser 10 year old cousin, I chose to join the local craft club. Each Saturday morning from that day onwards, I would join the 6 or 7 other girls in the hot, cramped ?Cathy?s Crafts? store in Montmorency. For $7 a week I could paint pieces of wood shaped as teddies, or perhaps even stick some glitter on a nice picture for Mother?s Day. Either way it served as a warning for the rest of my life that craft was definitely not my scene.
Project after project, week in, week out, I came home bearing one more useless, awful testament to bad taste and craftsmanship. Mum would be gently supportive ? with kind words such as ?why don?t you give this to Nana for Christmas?? Or in other words ?I never want that hideous toilet roll cover in my house again.? Dad wad not quite so understanding. My skills with the paintbrush were often criticised, as I had not used a ?polyglaze? or a ?neutral undercoat? or a ?size 12 brush?. Although the $7 a week had produced some memories of gluing too many sequins on my photo frame, or never being able to paint flowers quite right, the time had come for me to give my craft club days away. Forever.
And so it was that I found myself, hand glued to Mum?s, at the Little Athletics sign-up day. And so it was that I found myself being talked into being patriotic and signing up with the valiant Montmorency, who had never yet won a club championship and are likely to never achieve this coveted goal. My Saturdays had taken on a new light, a change of direction and an earlier morning wake-up.
Every Saturday I would wake up early, in excited anticipation of the day ahead. Mum would check my schedule and inform me of the day?s events. If I was lucky, I would have ?The Walk?, the 200 metres and Long Jump ? my best events. With deck chairs and thermos in tow, Mum would drive to Willinda Park in our old beat-up Holden Kingswood, and, despite my howls of protest, pull up right outside Montmorency?s headquarters. It really was an old (embarrassing) Kingswood.
The rest of the day would pass in a blur of events, icy poles and catching up on what was happening in my friends Lisa and Tracey?s lives. Usually we would compete against each other ? especially in ?The Walk?. My pet event. I could do 11.07 mins into a head wind, pulling a tractor. I was Montmorency?s little pocket rocket. In my mind, when it came to the walk, I was a star.
Around 20 ? 30 of us, just little under 10s, would line up on the starting line on the back straight of the track and nervously wait for the marshals to finally call us up for the start. Usually I needed to go the toilet. The thought of racing for so long was overwhelming at the time ? and more than a couple of girls would drop out before the race had begun. But I never gave up. I never lost sight of my goal. And that goal was, to beat Sarah Hicks. Sure, I wanted to win for myself. And my beloved Montmorency. But more than anything, I wanted to walk over that finish line ahead of Sarah, and turn around to see the look on her face as her Olympic dreams vanished into thin air. I wanted to see her crying to her Mum, and telling everyone that she wasn?t even really trying, when everyone knew she had been walking her legs off. I was quite malicious as a child. Basically, I wanted to see her suffer.
So, one week when the marshal finally called us up to the line, I pushed my way to the front, next to Sarah. I smiled at her and wished her luck, whilst picturing her crying and sobbing at the end of the race. Everyone was still for the gun. Then ? BANG! As always, I got off to a flying start, and led the field by a couple of metres at the end of the first hundred. I concentrated on my breathing ? in, out, in, out, slow it down? don?t panic? my legs were flying away from me, my action was tight, and I felt a sudden rush of confidence and energy. Never before had I led a Walk coming into the second lap. That day, I was in front. Coming around the bend, I spotted Sarah?s Mum, a Walk judge. I tightened my leg muscles and concentrated on my action. Bend, straighten, bend, bend, straighten, bend, breathe, breathe, breathe? I walked past Sarah?s Mum confident that my action didn?t warrant a report. I relaxed slightly and sped up a bit. I knew I had to keep my legs under control, but I also knew that out of the judge?s sight, if I relaxed slightly I could gain some more speed.
Coming around the back straight once more, the muscles in my legs began to throb and ache, as if they were tearing themselves away from my leg itself. I took a long, deep breath, gritted my teeth and tried desperately to maintain this rapid speed I had created for myself. Passing by the Montmorency cheer squad, I saw my friends and Mum cheering for me, yelling out support and praise. I grinned from ear to ear and pressed on. Two laps to go.
I passed by Sarah?s Mum once more and tightened my action accordingly, feeling the strain it put on my muscles. My breath was coming in short, sharp gasps now. I tried to quieten my breathing, slow it down, but the pain in my chest sent me gasping for air, and the screaming pain in my legs caused me to relax slightly, slow down. I saw Sarah?s Mum studying me closely and writing something down. A report. Two more lapses of concentration and I would be disqualified.
On the back straight I saw Sarah coming up behind me. I tried desperately to make my legs go faster, to slow my breathing and get back into the rhythm I had generated at the beginning of the race. But nothing worked. By the end of the back straight my lead was gone. I was in second place.
A lap and a half later, gasping for air and aching all over from the pain in my legs and chest, I somehow managed to cross the finish line. The rest of the race had passed in a blur of pain, wheezing and dizziness. I had finished in third place, the judges informed me. Sarah was standing by the judges? table, sipping a water bottle and grinning and laughing with one of the older girls from her club. A couple of minutes later my friend Lisa finished, and we sat together, trying to regain our breath and keep down our lunches at the same time.
?Did you beat Sarah?? she asked, panting.
?No? was my exhausted reply.
After that, I never came close to beating Sarah again. Although I had finished a very respectable third, gained a personal best and finished first out of my club, I still felt incredibly disappointed and almost incompetent. The last I heard of Sarah she was in Perth competing in the world championships for the Walk. A year later I quit Little Aths and found a new Saturday activity ? Saturday morning sport, at school. I have not competed in the Walk for 4 years.
My Saturdays have always held some sort of special reverence in my mind. They have played host to many memories I sometimes enjoy and sometimes regret, the craft club and Little Aths being just two of them. However, I will never forget how I felt that one particular Saturday, when Sarah Hicks and I put on a show for the crowd at Willinda Park.