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life essay: part 9

I remember that my head felt very warm and wet, and I seemed to be perspiring heavily. The more I jumped and kicked, the more I seemed to sweat. Drops were running into my eyes, flying everywhere. How strange, I thought.

Of course, the entire audience was roaring "waaaah" in horror, pointing and screaming. I kept going--punching, rolling, leaping. I didn't feel any pain, just heat. Stuff was dripping. That's all I knew. I just assumed that I was sweating more heavily than usual. At a certain point, as I whipped my face around, I did notice, "Hey! Here's some blood." But I did not stop doing my form.

From a very young age, it had been drilled into me that I could not use physical pain as an excuse to affect my performance. Not even a broken bone could justify it-and under that logic, a little blood was no reason at all. The drive to continue performing was automatic: "I cannot stop. I must continue." Years of inflexible training builds will; when you're truly tested, it serves you well. On the other hand, if you are always allowed to stop training whenever you felt discomfort, you will find it too easy to give yourself permission to quit.

So I finished my form, saluted, and ran off the platform. Three or four of my female teammates were standing there, and they were all crying.

"What are you all bawling about?" I asked them, as I approached.

"Just look at yourself!" they cried. Somebody clapped a towel on my head. When I looked down, I saw that the entire half of my uniform had been dyed red with blood. I was soaked crimson from the shoulder down to the pant leg. When I saw all that blood, I let out a surprised little yelp. Almost fainted!

They rushed me to the hospital, where I got stitched up. Then they took me back to the sports school to recuperate. My coaches told me that the final round was coming up in three days. But the doctor had warned me that under no circumstances could the stitches be removed before a full week had passed. Although I was worried about whether I could compete, I was more worried about my mother finding out about the injury. She hadn't been at the qualifying round, but she was definitely planning to attend the final round, and when she saw my bandages, she would panic.

In the meantime, my elder brother heard about what had happened. He came over to the school, took one look at me lying in bed covered in blood, and promptly ran home to tell our mother: "Jet cut his head open!" My mom rushed over to the school. My master had no choice-he had to allow her to see me. Then he took my brother outside and punnished him.

They somehow managed to persuade my mother that I was okay.

The day of the competition arrived. The doctor asked if planned to keep my bandages on during my performance? No, I couldn't do that-it would affect my balance. Did I want to forfeit the competition? No, I didn't want to do that either. So I wore my bandages all the way to the competition arena. When I arrived, everybody was watching me very carefully.

At this point, the lessons I'd learned three years earlier from training on the broken ankle served me well. I focused deep down. Nothing existed except my form.

I walked up to the platform and ripped off the bandage. A nurse was standing by with disinfectant and a syringe.

"Immediately after you finish," she told me, "come over here so I can clean your wound and cover it up again." The cut hadn't healed yet, and they were all afraid that the exposure to sweat and dirt might get it infected.

Sure enough, as soon as I finished the form, I ran down, pulled down my pants to get an injection, then let the nurse sponge and rebandage me!

So that's the story of my Third National Games.

My winning first place caused quite a sensation, because I was so young. I was 12 years old, and the other two medallists were in their mid- to late twenties. During the awards ceremony, as I stood on the top step of the podium, I was still shorter than the 2nd and 3rd place medallists. It must have been quite a sight.

The national anthem began to play. As I stood there, listening, I began to feel overcome with emotion. I hadn't really realized the impact of winning a national title the year before, when I was 11. This time, though, I suddenly wanted to start crying.

I remember thinking: "This medal is for you, mom! You didn't raise me in vain! Without your sacrifices, I couldn't have made it to this point!" The events of the last few days-the injury, my mom's reaction, competing against the adults-all started swimming in the ocean of my mind, and my eyes filled with tears. I can't say that I ever felt that way again standing on a podium, but I certainly did that time.

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