Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fat Men Can't Run

Remember the movie, "White Men Can't Jump"? I never saw it actually, but I could have starred in a similar movie my senior year in high school: "Fat Men Can't Run." It was a radiant day - the sort that even makes you look forward to the school bus ride. With windows down and radio up, our track team traveled north to Hamilton High School to take on our intra-conference rival.

Everything was right with the world. I had joined the track team to meet girls - and it had finally paid off! At the previous meet, I asked Laura - or was her name Julie (I can't really remember) - to be my date at the prom. She said yes. Now Laura, or Julie, or whatever and I were on our way to a sunny spring track meet.

Track star is not quite the first thought that leaps to mind when one ponders my ample girth. Alas, I was part of that forlorn group of tracksters that Garrett High labeled the "weight men." We were never really sure if our moniker had to do with the amount of time we spent lifting weights to prepare for the shot put and the discus or if it referred to our considerable heft. I suspect it had more to do with the latter. While Kirk Johnson and the other guys were sprinting and puking, we were jogging and eating. Most of our group were wrestlers who had spent the winter months in forced starvation and thirst trying to make weight. If not lean, they certainly were hungry, and track season presented them with an opportunity to regain lost ground.

I knew something was fishy weeks earlier when the coaches proclaimed the inaugural "Weight Man Relay." Coach Hecksel, who suffered from having been born without a neck, and Coach Wellhausen, who had a beautiful daughter and was affectionately known as "The Gut, " would sit with the opposing coaches in the top row of the bleachers and laugh as their respective weight man quartets squared off in the 400 meter relay.

Each meet ended the same way: four coaches convulsing in laughter, and eight runners convulsing in nausea.

Ha ha ha.

We endured, though. And on this April day, giddy with thoughts of the prom and what's-her-name, I thought I would one-up "no neck" and "The Gut" once and for all. "Coach," I began as our bus turned off the interstate, "why not let me run the 400 meters today?" Coach Hecksel turned in his seat to better see me (no neck, remember), a look of astonishment written across his face. "Are you serious," he growled. "Yeah, I am. I want to be able to say I ran that race in my lifetime, even if only once." He and "The Gut" began a whispered conversation like doctors trying to decide who was going to tell a patient that he was terminal.

"Okay," he said, "if we're ahead in points you can do it."

I threw the discus with extra vigor that day. I put the shot further than ever before. I couldn't wait for the 400 meter dash. Finally the event arrived. "The Gut" called me over and said, "line up behind Johnson." I didn't even know you could do that. Kirk got down in the blocks, I got down behind him - not the view I had in mind, by the way - but I was running the 400 meters.

The gun went off and so did I. I shot forward and ran with everything that was in me. I held my own through the first turn. I was within striking distance with the others only a few yards ahead. As we rounded the second turn though, a breeze (read "hurricane") stood me up. So much for the spring
day. If coach was laughing, I'm sure God must have been on the floor at the sight of me facing the wind He cooked up. Slowly the pack pulled away - the "tink, tink, tink" of their spikes growing softer and softer until I was alone. Undiscouraged, I reasoned that this same gale might help me when I rounded the corner and headed down the home stretch. I could still have a respectable finish. I lumbered through the third and fourth turns and then - CRAMP!

I often wondered why runners spent so much time stretching before their races. I just always assumed they either weren't hungry, or that their girlfriends were on the softball team. Now I knew.

With head pounding and quadracep twitching and my Keds on fire, I limped forward. Rumbling through the last twenty meters, I glanced backward to see the guys behind me setting up the high hurdles for the next event. I felt like the final entry in the Walt Disney Parade of Lights - ten seconds after you see it, you can't even tell there has been a parade. I finished, though, in 75 seconds. The longest minute and one-fourth in my life.

Looking back it doesn't seem so bad . . . I guess. I imagine "The Gut" and "no-neck" drag that story out for a "remember when" moment from time to time and have a good laugh. Let 'em. They deserve it for putting up with me and my teammates.

The moral of the story: runners should run and weight men should lift weights. I had no business running the 400 meters because I wasn't gifted for it. How about you? Are you doing what God has gifted you to do?

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