Global Skywatch

Ted’s essays

reaching down deep

I was a tiny guy in high school; had more or less stopped growing in 5th grade. But Dad taught me to play tennis … well enough to be third on the tennis team out of 3,000 kids in my high school.

Amusingly, the big, muscle-bound, power-lifter coach who drew the short straw and had to “coach” the tennis team took turns playing against all of us. I was the only one who beat him … because he expected his opponents to follow his coaching instructions while I was rebellious enough to put the ball where he didn’t expect it… over and over … he never could catch on.

It wasn’t important to me, but tennis came easy enough and was entertaining. However, I dreaded my senior year on the team. Number one and number two were graduating away.

I did not want to spend my senior year playing against that one fluke freak that every tennis team had who was extraordinarily good at the game. Not just losing, but being CRUSHED every match of the season in the North Bay League was not something I looked forward to. Yet I was not inclined to quit the tennis team.

Plan B

I joined the cross country team whose season preceded tennis. If I improved my stamana in, and by running, I might just maybe win a match or two against The Number One here and there, or at least give an honorable show at the matches.

So I slogged along as Tail-End-Charley at the daily practices and cross country meets. I put in honest effort for a skinny little short boy, ran lots of miles with some nice guys and made good friends with kids who could really run.

It was a regional cross country tourney in Vallejo where I was plodding along out of a graveyard at the top of a hill next to a fellow plodder wearing a different colored jersey. We had about a quarter mile of straightaway to the finish. I don’t think either of us had any skin in the game.

Then our higher-performance teammates ran back to tell us that our teams were tied. The single point one of us was about to score at the finish line would determine the outcome of the meet.

We looked at each other. The sadness in his face echoed my feelings exactly. We both knew what we had to do … and had no desire to do.

I accelerated. He accelerated. We remained chest-to-chest.

I accelerated more. He accelerated more. No change.

We stretched… stride for stride … side by side.

Full out wind sprint. Still dead even.

Just before the finish line he lost something or I found something he didn’t have. I reached into unknown spaces and crept ahead.

As I crossed the finish line my teammates caught me as my legs simply went away. How did they know that? I had never seen nor heard of it in my life, yet those kids knew I would have no legs right after the line.

——

This video of a 1972 Olympics 800-meter run reminds me of my run that day.

Sadly, his teammates didn’t swarm up both sides to complete the picture… and somehow his legs continued to support him… nevertheless, that was one heckuva run.