John McCann: Staying on track through life’s curves

May. 13, 2013 @ 04:14 PM

This has been a rough period in the world of sports.
And I ain’t talking about Jason Collins, either.
Listen, y’all should’ve been there the other night, over at Riverside for the PAC-6 track-and-field championships.
The girls’ crown came down to what East Chapel Hill and Northern would do in the 4x400-meter relay, their last event of the evening.
But Jordan sprinter Christina Mattioli turned on the jets, adding to the drama by just about passing a Hillside runner before dropping her team’s baton and somehow getting tangled up, tumbling to the ground.
“It’s not really clear to me what happened,” Christina said.
The bottom line is the baton no longer was in Christina’s hand, and it cost Jordan the race in front of what to her teenaged eyes seemed like the whole planet.
“It definitely felt like that, like the world was coming to an end,” Christina said.
Well, imagine how Imari McLean was feeling the next day at school when she started receiving text messages about being the Hillside girl who got walked down by Christina.
That wasn’t Imari, though – she ran the second leg of that 4x400.
ECH won the league title. Imari became the PAC-6 long-jump queen, which was remarkable, because the young lady entered the conference championships nursing a nagging hamstring injury that she got while playing basketball.
The injury kept Imari out of the PAC-6 finals for the 100-meter dash, however there in the official results for the 4x400 was her name listed in the anchor spot.
So that’s what I wrote in the newspaper, to the chagrin of many.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Imari reasoned. “Mistakes do happen.”
Uh, excuse me, but Miss Imari is a high school junior, which makes her of age for inclusion in the generation of supposedly entitled young people looking for another reason to prove why they were born with the right to be mad at the world.
“I wasn’t mad,” Imari said.
What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Imari?
“I was alarmed, but, thank goodness, my mom had already prepared me,” Imari said.
You see, Alisa “Mama” McLean had gotten wind of what was in the newspaper, so she clued in her daughter.
“She didn’t want me to freak out,” Imari said.
The thought of college track coaches reading that story and having second thoughts worried Imari, but she took comfort in knowing that the folks in the stadium that night saw what really went down.
And with that, Imari moved on.
“We’ve always known mistakes happen,” said Frankie McLean, Imari’s dad. “It’s not about what happens but how you deal with it. She dealt with it really well.”
So did Christina. The day after dropping the baton, she was out shopping for hair extensions for the prom.
Life was good again.
When I called Christina and asked if there was a lesson she’d gleaned that evening at the track, she couldn’t really articulate anything, at least not voice to voice.
It came to her later on, though, and she let me know in a way that was generationally fitting – the girl texted me:
“Life doesn’t always play out the way you might expect or how you think it will,” Christina wrote. “Life goes on.”
In other words, young people really are resilient – well, with good parenting.
Reach John McCann at 919-419-6601 or