I remember my first official/unofficial race. I was in the third or fourth grade and our class participated in a field day. I can recall that I was at the Floral Park Memorial playground and there was some kind of asphalt track. The race must have been one lap around the track but I can’t tell you what distance we ran. I was wearing long pants and funny as this seems, I was wearing brown leather shoes. We didn’t wear sneakers to school in those days.
Another memory from the day is this: One of my classmates had an older brother who ran track in high school. He might as well have been playing for the Yankees…that’s the pedestal we all put his brother on. Running – in High School – no doubt a professional athlete as high school was not even a vague concept in our 11 year old brains.
The kid passed along some advice that his brother had given him and I remember it to this day, ” The Finish Line is ten yards beyond the tape.” In other words you have to run through the finish and not stop at it.
So, I get to high school and being too small to play football, too short to play basketball and afraid of line drives I turn to the only outlet that I can manage and I become a runner. Track for four years and a year of cross country. One year the varsity basketball players had to run with us in the fall until one day the starting center tripped and twisted his ankle. The next day all the basketball players were gone and they never returned.
For awhile out head track coach was also the head football coach. He was well meaning but track, especially long distance is not football. The linemen threw shot while the running backs ran sprints and me being a skinny kid ran the mile and the two mile. He didn’t know what to do with those of us not blessed with sprinter speed. I was a hurdler for a day and that didn’t work out.
So I got tossed into all three distance events at meets. I ran the half, the mile and the two mile. In those days the half was considered a distance event. For the two mile event the theory was that most teams would not have any two milers and if we had at least one entrant in a three man race that our team could pick up a third place point just for someone ( me) showing up and sticking it out for two miles. I scored three points in my entire high school running career. In what has got to be the biggest gimme in the history of history I was awarded a varsity letter in track and field barely a month before I graduated a senior. I still have that varsity letter. It’s one of my most cherished mementos.
Next, The College years.