Out of the way, runner en route
It’s amazing the things that stay with you a lifetime. I wouldn’t share this with just anyone, but in first grade, I was the fastest child in my class.
At recess, Mrs. Nicks (who, by the way, died last year) would line us up on the baseball field there at Eastlawn Elementary, do the, “On your mark, get set, go!” and off we’d race. To the end of the field and back, a conglomeration of little 6-year-olds sporting crewcuts or pigtails, running, as Forrest Gump might say, “like the wind blows.”
I was so much faster than the other children that some would only be about halfway down when I’d meet them on the way back. It was easy. Running was fun.
On Little League football teams I was one of the best. And I loved the game. A reporter from my hometown newspaper came to do an article on youth football when I was about 12 and I scored three first-half touchdowns before my coach made me sit out the final two quarters for fear the affair would get out of hand.
My picture was in the paper when the article appeared the following week. I’ve still got a copy around here somewhere if you’d like to stop by for a look.
But when I reached high school (and I don’t say this to be prejudiced, just stating a fact) they finally got around to integrating our teams and I remember thinking, “Dang, but these black guys are fast.”
And, man, were they physical. I kept playing, but I was no longer the star. My own athletic career had pretty well peaked by the time I was 14.
I took up distance running when I was a freshman at Appalachian after discovering the joy of beer and potato chips and the 40 pounds that accompanied this discovery. For several years, I remained fairly skinny and ran 10-kilometer races most weekends.
My fastest time for a 10-k race was a hair over 43 minutes, a time that I now find akin to a 6-mile sprint, but a time that 30 years ago left me disappointed seeing as how I’d hoped to finish in under 40 minutes.
I still run, more a slow, 2-mile amble than anything. I never look at the watch. It’s the distance, not the speed that motivates me nowadays. I sometimes worry I’m becoming one of those old men I pity when I see them shuffling along the side of the road.
My physique has gone from young and skinny to middle-aged and, well, no longer skinny, that’s for sure. (It’s true what they say, it’s a shame the wonders of youth are wasted on those too young to appreciate them.)
Still (and, again, I wouldn’t share this with just anyone), I completed my 160th run of the year today (I know this for a fact because Susan Shinn gave me a runner’s log last Christmas and I’ve made note therein of each of my jaunts about the neighborhood).
I’m not setting any speed records and I no longer run 10-k races. But, somewhere, I’m sure Mrs. Nicks is proud that the fastest child in her class is still running.
When not racing back and forth to his refrigerator, Steve Huffman writes from his home in Spencer.