My life changed on a Thursday. Last Thursday, actually.
I drove down to London and visited a bunch of schools. School visits are one of my favourite things to begin with, but it was a gorgeous day, all sunny and spring-like, and the kids I met were more beautiful than brand-new iPhones, and the energy in the classrooms was all hoverboards and high-fives. I had a total ball at all those schools. But that isn’t what changed my life. At the end of the day I visited St. Robert’s Catholic School, and did my usual “Ultra talk” for a class of sixth graders. The teacher had read almost all of my novel to the kids, and after my presentation was over, the kids asked me if the Urinal Hockey League actually existed in real life (it did!) and are there really bandits in running races (there are!) and have you really run into bears in the forest (many!). We took crazy group pictures while Katy Perry blasted from the boom-box, and then the kids asked, will you come outside and run with us?
The last period of the day was about to begin. It was their P.E. class.
Since it was so beautiful and I had my running shoes with me, of course I said YES!
I thought we’d maybe do a few easy laps around the schoolyard. But after we’d conga-lined out the back door and into the bright sunshine, the P.E. teacher said, “Okay, let’s play Manhunt. Caleb, you’re it! Who do you choose as a partner?”
Caleb glanced around, and then chose me.
ME! It was the FIRST TIME I’ve been ever picked first for a sports team!
And do you know what? I rocked at that game! As a kid I was terrible at soccer and basketball and volleyball and baseball and just about any other game with a ball, but when it came to Manhunt, I was THE MASTER!
Manhunt, by the way, is basically tag, except that two people start out being it, and slowly but surely tag everyone else. Once the other kids are tagged, they become “it” too, and join in the hunt, helping to chase down the last remaining players. Manhunt is basically nothing more than a 15-minute SPRINT. And I was sprinting after some extremely speedy sixth-graders!
It was the best possible way to end a long day. We laughed and screamed and bounded around that schoolyard like gazelles! I wasn’t a grownup anymore. I was eleven years old. Eventually I tagged someone, and Caleb tagged someone too and our little group of “it” people grew and grew.
When the game ended we pleaded with the teacher to let us play again. He said yes.
What that game ended we pleaded with him again.
When the third game ended we convinced him that daily physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle, so of course he had to let us play one more game.
After the fourth game, the teacher gathered all of us kids in a quiet corner of the playground, and he had us sit down on a bunch of boulders. Then he handed me a beat-up copy of Ultra. “Would you mind?” he asked. “We’re only five pages from the end.”
He wanted me to read the end of the book to the kids! I was hesitant. That’s a very intense section of the book. In those final 5 pages, Quinn not only saves ——–, he also gets passed by ——— and nearly loses ———-, but then he thinks of ———, and sees ——— and ———, and there’s an intense final showdown with ——— at the finish line. And the whole time the clock is ticking…
The kids cheered and cheered until I agreed to read. I got a bit emotional as I turned the pages, and I actually choked up a couple of times. I often read from the novel in my school visits, but I’ve never read THE ACTUAL CLIMAX! The kids were RAPT. They were so totally into it, and we were outside in the sun, and we’d just spent an hour racing around the schoolyard.
When I finished the last few sentences the kids stared at me in silence. “Keep going,” someone said.
“I can’t,” I said. “That’s the end.”
I was shocked to find that the book was actually pretty good. I hadn’t really expected that.
“That can’t be the end!” said Caleb. “You have to write a sequel!”
On the two-hour drive home, I couldn’t stop singing.