I stood in the infield at the Georgia Olympics on Friday afternoon in Jefferson, watching closely as North Hall’s Luis Gonzalez put forth an incredible final effort to surge ahead for an individual state championship in the 3200 meter run.
As he crossed the finish line and walked off of the track, mere seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, he raised his hands to his head, eyes watering, clearly overcome with emotion.
I went through the normal process of preparing an interview, thinking of questions in my head, and the only one that I could think of right off the top of my head was the same cliche: How does it feel?
Tired, yes, but perhaps the most important in a situation like that. And I was impressed with the answer.
“I’ve wanted this since I was a freshman,” Gonzalez said. “Coming out with a win — I mean, just being here was incredible. But coming out with a win is too amazing for words.”
It was obvious that, after all the hours of hard work and training the senior put in, winning that state title was the most rewarding experience of his young life.
And I couldn’t help but think that this is why we do what we do. Not just for him, but for me as well.
Despite my love for sports, I can often be overwhelmed with the extracurriculars that run rampant in professional and college sports.
Suspensions, wars of words, holding out for more money — all things that get in the way of what made me love sports from the first time I was introduced to them.
One of the most rewarding things in my job is to be able to talk to athletes who are unchanged by the dramas that high-profile sports offer, and who are still overcome with emotion at their own success.
The beauty of sports is not just in winning games, tournaments or titles. It is in the hours of training, practice and learning that go in for a full season, and then seeing it all come to fruition at the end of the year.
In Gonzalez’s case, it all came to a head in the final race of his high school career.
It was only his fourth time competing in that particular race, but it was four-plus years of rigorous preparation in the sport.
You can’t script it any better than that.
And as a person who follows closely the pursuits of high school athletes, it reaffirms the work that I do, as well.
As fans of sports, we live for those moments of raw emotion. Often, those moments come in defeat. But nothing is as enjoyable as seeing the athletes at their peak of accomplishment.
Judging by Gonzalez’s reaction on Friday, I can imagine the feeling is mutual.
David Mitchell is a sportswriter for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesdmitchell.