My Struggle for a Meaning
Xingyu (Bobby) Ma
“Ready.” The runners got ready. “Get Set.” The runners took their positions. The final for
the 100 meter dash was about to begin.
The gun went off. I sprang forward off the block and started running with all my heart,
mind, and strength. Blood pounded in my ears and when I reached the halfway point, two other
runners and I had taken an obvious lead. As the final leg of the race neared, fame and glory was
right in front of me, but I was behind the competition. I wouldn’t relent as I was the hungriest
person in the race so I exerted all of my remaining energy, ran past my competitors, and crossed
the finish line.
As I heard the national anthem playing, as I stood on the highest step of the medal stand,
and as I was presented the gold medal, I knew I had accomplished my dream, to have my life be
of some sort of meaning and I was fortunate enough to have that meaning be winning it all at the
Olympics. Furthermore, I was to receive a huge reward from my country, enough money to
support my family and myself, be welcomed back as a hero, and be recognized internationally. I,
however, had also paid a steep price. I toiled away training my entire childhood and a sea of
challenges had taken the life out of me.
My story began in a small, out of the way farm along the countryside in China. There, my
family worked long hours farming trying to harvest as many crops as possible to sell and put
food on the table.
A typical day would include chores, chores, and more chores and in between the chores,
there would be chores. When the sun rises, the rooster will cause a racket and pull me out of my
dreams into reality. Still with bruised limbs from the previous day’s grueling labor, I would
snatch the bucket, scamper to the creek, and lug home water for my family’s use. By that time,
the breakfast would be ready but I know I wouldn’t be permitted to eat until I milked the cows
whose udder should be bursting by then, but I didn’t mind because I would rather not eat if it
weren’t for the fact that I need energy for work.
“Ah, there you are,” mom said as I brought in the milk from milking the cows, “come and
eat breakfast.” As I looked down at the table, my stomach rebelled against me violently on the
sight of the small bit of seeds, fruits, tree bark, and what is that slimy muddy soup thing in the
middle? Seeing my face, my mom asked, “What’s with the grimace? Do you not like it?” I
answered, “Mother, you have it all wrong, I like the food and thank you for making it.”
I had learned my lesson. Once, I told mom the food was disgusting and father
immediately erupted, “Do you know how much we have worked for the breakfast?! You should
be thankful for what you have!” However, as we were eating, father would grimace even more
than I and try as he would, he isn’t able to hide his desire for something better.
After the painful meal, I would have to drag hay to the stall to feed and tend to all the
smelly and disgusting animals. I realize that they desperately need a bath and that’s when I
realize being like them would be an improvement compared to my current condition. The
animals would take all morning and at noon, I would go and help my father in the fields so we
can plant crops. Oh, how much I wished those crops were ours, especially not having enough
money for lunch. However, my family still needed to sell them if we wanted to even have
anything for breakfast and dinner. After a whole afternoon of grueling and backbreaking work, I
would retire for dinner and sleep.
The part that was the most torture was not the work, however. The work was a piece of
cake. The days barefoot on the rough soil full of sticks and stones and the hours wasted heaving
the plow across the farm has built muscle in me. No, the work was easy. The hardest thing was
wasting my life away. For as long as I can remember, there’s been an empty void in my heart
knowing that I am locked into the cycle of chores forever, and I will never be able to do
anything with my life. And there wasn’t a thing that I could do about it; I can’t just leave and live
with nothing in my stomach. Then one day, it all changed.
“Father!” I yelled, “There are government officials on our farm.”
The officials told my family, “Your child is one with potential. We have seen him
scamper like lightning across your field to milk your cow and we would like to recruit your child
into the government Physical Education program to train as a runner. But be warned, your child
will be put into rigorous training and there will be as much mercy as there is in the underworld.”
I certainly wanted to go train. There was finally an escape to the black hole sucking away
my life. “Who would take care of the chores though?” asked mother. “Don’t worry about it,”
father said, “we will manage. I’ve seen his dissatisfaction with our life and who knows? He may
succeed.” Hearing that, I jumped for joy. Leaving the countryside for the city is a dream come
When I first stepped into my dormitory at the school, I was glad to relieve myself of the
burdens known as my belongings. Even before they hit the ground, another student shoved me
away and told me that was his personal space. I wondered, “how many other people can be
squeezed in here? That guy was so defensive!” Turns out, a dozen other people were being
squeezed into the cramped room and each person had barely 3 square feet of personal space.
Moreover, the floor was made of filth. Touch it with anything and it would turn black.
The conditions elsewhere seemed as if they came from hell as well.The hole in the
ground may as well have been a fly’s nest and at night, you would know you were near it just by
the stench and remember to pray to God that you won’t fall in. Because of the blasted hole,
someone would be infected with disease all the time and I would surrender even more of my
personal space to get away.
If you were wondering about food, the other necessity, you could call it a spawn of Satan
as well. The two paltry meals were never able to fill the empty void in my stomach and
eventually, no one was blamed for snoring anymore but instead, the person’s stomach that
growled the most would get all the hate for keeping everyone awake.
Then there was the training. The rooster crowed at 5:00 and I had to be on the field by
6:00. Next, I would be commanded to run kilometers for warm up and be drilled mercilessly in
running techniques. In the afternoon, the coach forced us to run up and down mountains with
bare feet on a good day and have rocks tied to our feet any other day.
“Get the sacks!” the coach, with a whip in his hand commanded. Everyone groaned and
grabbed the sacks of rocks. Immediately, a human train started trudging up the mountain.
The coach's whipped suddenly snapped and one student fell. “Faster!” the coach yelled
and the rest of us doubled the effort to get to the base of the mountain to escape the whip.
As I climbed, the mountain rocks became knives which caused me to groan in
excruciating pain and by the time I reached the peak, I had many cuts and bruises, like usual. I
wondered, “How in the world will I ever get down?” That was a question in my head every day
but I always did make it back. I slowly descended the trail of swords and I was fortunate to make
it back. The student who finished last wasn’t so fortunate. “Get in a straight line!” the coach said,
“I’m going to demonstrate what stragglers get!”
The coach began to whip the student and the class cried out in concern, “Are you ok?” It
was met by silence. A drop of water fell. Whether it was a drop of sweat or a tear, I still don’t
A decade passed. In that time, I trained hard with determination and I honed my running
and achieved the speed I was capable of. I made it to the Olympics where I claimed my fame.
I am now 46. My victory at the Olympics has given my family enough money for life. My
siblings are strong men and women with spouses and children leading happy and prosperous
lives. My father is a proud father. However, I have no sons or daughters I can call my own. And
from the time that passed, the memory of my victory has faded and I won’t be remembered. My
body is failing me as well. From the intense training I went through as a youth, and the amount
of work I put into my medal, my body is growing weaker by the day. I will die soon and my
name will be forgotten, buried beneath every other.