Jumping over the hurdle

How track helped me overcome my fear of failure


Photo courtesy of Jeremy Hohengarten | Used with permission

The 2023 MVHS hurdles team and coaches pose after reaching the middle of the season

Pranati Kotamraju

“I’m going to quit. I’m going to quit. I’m going to quit.”

Those were the only words running through my mind, as I slowly dragged my feet across the track, the sun burning a hole in my back. I was miles behind everyone else, still on lap one of three, while everyone had finished long before. I took a long look at the track ahead of me and wondered, “How will I ever make it through this season?”

I never thought I would join the track team. When I was in elementary school, I was always the first to participate in any sports event. But as I grew older, sports seemed to become more competitive among my peers and subsequently lost its appeal. I would fall into a spiral of constantly comparing myself to my classmates, eventually coming to the decision that sports just “wasn’t my thing” — even though I used to have so much fun participating in it. Whenever I was asked why I never joined a sport, I would always dodge the question, responding with recycled excuses to end the conversation.

What my friends didn’t know was that I had been wanting to join track since middle school, but there was only one problem — I sucked at running. However, the real hurdle holding me back from joining wasn’t my subpar running skills, but the fear of being behind everyone else. To me, doing an activity that I didn’t excel at was my definition of failure. I don’t know when I started to notice these tendencies, but the thought of doing something new made my skin crawl and I found myself listing all the worst possible outcomes in an attempt to talk myself out of joining. I would purposefully avoid trying new things because I was afraid I wouldn’t be good and it started to register that there was nothing in my life that I was doing just for pure enjoyment, almost every activity I was doing in my life was trying to prove a point. I began second guessing the passions I had dedicated years to and started to wonder … “Am I really good at anything at all?”

It took me a long time to come to this realization that my fear of failure was preventing me from progressing and an even longer time to jump over this hurdle. Initially, I thought I would be content staying in my little bubble. I was stuck in a cycle of self sabotage, but as I thought about all the potential opportunities I had missed out on over the years because of this fear, one day I decided that I didn’t want to let it control me anymore. I felt like a caterpillar yearning to be a butterfly, yet the only thing that was clipping my wings was myself. So when my friend told me there was a track interest meeting, I impulsively scribbled my name on the mailing list and showed up to the first practice. I made a promise to myself — no matter how hard it got or how slow I was, I would not quit.

The first day on the track was brutal; as a girl who did little to no physical activity, running a minimum of three miles every day was a pretty big lifestyle change for me. I woke up with sore muscles all over my body. It was so tempting to just give up. However, day by day, it slowly got easier, and I started to let go of the expectations I had for myself and instead focused on the actual experience.

By May, the end of the season had arrived and it was League finals — the day of my last race. I could feel some of the familiar pressure bubbling inside of me, but I pushed it away, and reminded myself of the reason I joined in the first place — to have fun. As I waited in my lane, I could feel anxious butterflies in my stomach, with a million different thoughts racing through my head. Clearing my mind, I tried to refocus and as soon as I heard the whistle, I took off. Everything was going well until I neared the second to last hurdle. I raised my leg to jump over it — and fell face first into the ground. However, I didn’t linger on the ground for too long, but instead got up and finished the rest of the race. After I crossed the finish line, I waited for the familiar feelings of shame and insecurity to wash over me, but surprisingly, the only thing I felt was accomplishment. Stumbling over a hurdle doesn’t necessarily mean failure — failure would have been if I hadn’t finished the race and given up instead. I looked up to see the time and was astonished to see that I set a personal record despite my fall.

Although I may not have won a medal or placed in Leagues, I’ve gained so much from those few months during track season. Joining track eventually helped me overcome my fear of failure by teaching me to let go of the pressure I put on myself. It reminded me that it was OK not to be the best at everything all the time. My definition of failure had completely changed since the beginning of track season. I was no longer saddled with the burden of self-expectation and learned to enjoy myself rather than constantly prioritizing improvement. So I wanted to say thank you to track, for bringing me out of my comfort zone and most of all, for bringing me joy.