Word of the Day: Underwhelm

:to fail to impress or stimulate

I still often shiver with fear at the sight of eggs. When my team arrived at my cross-country camp senior year of high school, the bus doors opened, and we were welcomed with a wall of stench that came to be described as the “Poopy Eggs” fragrance. I don’t think that I will ever un-smell that fetid odor, which lurked with omnipresence that entire week. We were all promised quintessential rural running vistas, air-conditioned cabins and a diet specifically catered to young runners. The reality was underwhelming, to say the least.

With a new coaching staff that summer, our running program was in major overhaul — including the annual team camp. This new camp was promised as a “team bonding” delight, where coaches and runners from several teams could combine in a harmonious assembly. After a few hours there, we learned of our natural enemy: sulfur mines. Beneath our very feet was an enormous cavity of sulfur that exploded days before our arrival. The minerals leaked into the well water we drank and seeped into the musty air circulating through our lungs during workouts. We all endured as best as we could, but even the shower situation turned out to be rather problematic. A large room, with endlessly high ceilings corroded by dense rust, mimicking prison showers, served as the only source of bathing for over 200 people. All of the curtains had been tied together to offer that truly “communal” feel among runners. And worst of all, the water there seemed to smell of poopy eggs more so than anywhere else. Most people forwent showering for that week, but after day two of sitting in my own stench produced by the summer heat and intense workouts, I needed to do something about it. I ended up stealing someone’s Costco-sized pack of water bottles and bathed in a nearby parking lot. I can’t say that I’m a very bashful person, but you do feel a certain way when a group of high school runners stares at you vigorously scrubbing your body with Head and Shoulders while 20 empty water bottles circle your feet.

On the eve of our departure, our coaches announced a midnight workout. I ran only with the incentive of actually showering the next day. After an hour, we suddenly stopped, surrounded by a boundless continuum of darkness in an isolated cornfield. We were told to sit on the ground silently as we prepared for yet another team bonding exercise. Our coach droned on about race times and envisioning strong workout finishes, while all I could think about was the possibility of a rabid raccoon biting my behind in the middle of that cornfield. And yet, I did feel a sense of peace wash over me. It was rather inexplicable and fleeting, but I completely disconnected from my surroundings at that moment. I felt at peace despite my usually neurotic mind frame. Everything slowed down. The earth felt warm and familiar under me. And for once that entire week, it did not smell like poopy eggs.