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Alana rolled over on her bed and looked at the poster on her wall. Kimberley Smith, the New Zealand track athlete, was half-smiling and half-scowling down at her, mid-race. There were no other athletes in the picture. Kimberley, Alana imagined, was miles ahead of the rest of the field, fixated on pushing through to the finish line to claim her medal, the crowd chanting her name, “Kim-ber-ley! Kim-ber-ley! Kim-ber-ley!”. Alana rolled back over and wrapped her head in her hands.

She’d been lost in her poster countless times. And each time she wished it was her winning the race, the people in the stands up on their feet stamping out “Al-a-na, Al-a-na, Al-a-na” to match the beat of her feet. But that was never going to happen. Alana slowly, reluctantly, began to realise it wasn’t her dream anymore, just little more than wishful thinking. It would no more be Alana winning an Olympic medal than having a roomful of people at her birthday party. Kim, small, blond and very, very fast, was popular with people from all over the world; everyone wanted her time and attention. Alana, as she told herself every time she looked at her poster, was the opposite of Kimberley Smith in just about every single way.

“Alana!” It wasn’t the crowd calling her name. It was her mother. “Alana! Come down for breakfast. You’re already late.”

Alana wasn’t late. You’re only late if you mean to be somewhere by a certain time and you’re not. Alana didn’t want to be at school and so, she reasoned, by not being there on time it didn’t count as being late. Why, she asked herself, would I be on time for naming calling, being picked on, to have someone throw my bag onto the caretaker’s roof, to get my lunch kicked across the playground? And that was just in the last week. Who knows what ‘fun’ is waiting for me if I arrive at school before the 8.40am bell? No, being late (if that’s what it’s called) was not lateness, merely self-defence.

“Alana!” It was the not-crowd again. “Stop being slow. Hurry up, please.”

There it was again, the story of her life. Alana Last. A-late-a. Hurry-Alana-up.
“Packed your bag?” Mum asked in the kitchen. “Here’s your lunch. A green salad and some cashew nuts. And I’ve popped in a small bag of chips. Baked, not fried!” she added with a wink in that really annoying sing-song way. Even mum was having a go.

A perfect lunch for spreading across the playground, Alana thought sarcastically. She grabbed her box, stuffed it deep into her bag and huffed towards the front door. “Bye, mum,” she called over her shoulder before slamming the door behind her. Today was the day…

(Part 2 next week)


Critical Thinking Challenges:

  1. Sometimes school or families or other things can become too much. Why do we need ‘to escape’? What kinds of things do we do ‘to escape’?
  2. Is Alana running away from a problem or is she showing determination to do something?
  3. How good are other people at really appreciating the difficulties that we might face?
  4. This story is partly about peer pressure and the need to fit in. How and why do we need to fit in? What are we fitting in to?
  5. What advice would you give Alana?
  6. Why do we need heroes and role models?

Practical Tasks:

  1. Continue the story in your own words. What happens next? What does Alana do?
  2. Flick through biographies or read online some interviews with Olympic athletes or other sportswomen and sportsmen. What kinds of things have they said about their childhoods?
  3. Who is your hero or role model? What characteristics does that person have that you look up to? Share your thoughts and compare ideas with a classmate.

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