Terre Haute Meltdown

Chapter 29, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



We began in Evansville where the Pocket City Striders held their annual club invitational on the first Saturday in April. I ran a lackluster 800, winning by 7 or 8 meters. The next Saturday, I ran in the Comet Racers event in Fort Wayne. Again, no one could touch me. In two races, I led from start to finish. It was boring. I wanted more. I needed someone to push me.

On the next Saturday, I ran in the Wabash Valley Invitational on the Indiana State University campus in Terre Haute. The 800 race was crowded, cramming 15 runners in eight lanes. As the mob surged at the start, I tripped and fell in a heap. Tied down by arms and legs, I was an old man in a pickup football game. In slow motion, the pile untangled. I struggled to my feet, shoved one guy aside and sprinted after the pack, about 20 meters ahead.

Scrambling down the backstretch past three stragglers, I felt something trickle down my leg. I looked and gasped. It was blood. My knee was missing three inches of skin.

Now I was angry. With hot adrenaline gushing, I shifted up a gear. I caught two more pretenders going into the curve, another coming out. The rest of the gang pranced 10 meters dead ahead.

“Come back here, you bastards!” I bellowed.

The small crowd stared in silence. Not even a buzz. I doubt they ever heard anyone run down the front stretch – and cuss. But I did hear a female voice ask “Did he say bastards?”

So what? I was hurt. I was mad. The bell clanged.

Harry shouted as I crossed the line. I couldn’t hear him. I didn’t care. I would run ’em down or run ’em over.

“Git the hell outta the way,” I huffed, steaming past two more on the curve.

“MOVE!” I yelled at three more in the backstretch.

It scared them, and they scattered. I scooted through the hole.

One left to catch. He poured it on through the last curve.

I chased him like an angry Tony Stewart.

Ten yards.

Six yards.





My left foot clipped his right heel. He dropped as if he were shot. Through the tape I sprinted and kept running – all the way to the car. A long 10 minutes later, Harry rolled up, tossed his walker in the backseat, and we took off for home.

“Better work on that start,” was all Harry said for the first five miles.

“Where’s my ribbon?” I asked about three miles later.

“Up that guy’s ass,” said Harry.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

More Than Senseless

Chapter 28, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



“Really?” Now I hoped Harry was kidding. “What do you mean by that?”

“It means, let us get started,” my coach said. “Here, wear this.”

Harry held out his hand. In it was a black cloth.

“A bandana?” I asked.

“No, el stupido. It’s a blindfold,” he said.

“A what?”

“A blindfold. What? Did I stutter?”

… coach has lost it this time …

“What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”

“You wear it, Charlie, baby.”

“What the hell for?”

Harry looked at me with bewilderment. I might as well have asked if he were my fairy godmother. He waved his finger in disapproval.

“We said no more questions, remember?”

“Sure, but …”

“It is part of your training,” he said. “It will help you develop your inner runner.”

“My what?”

“You need to trust your instinct,” Harry continued. “You depend too much … “

“My instinct is telling me to forget the blindfold.”

“Quiet! As I was saying, you depend too much on your sense of vision. Anyone who can see, does. Your other senses need additional work. You know, development.”

I took the blindfold and tied it in place. The cloth was thick. I couldn’t see anything. I felt helpless – and foolish.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Jog a lap,” he said.

“Harry, I’m just going to fall down and get hurt.”

“No, you’re not. I will tell you when you get to the turn. Try it. It is easier than you think.”

“If I sprain my ankle …”

“I swear,” Harry said. “YOU are such a baby.”

That did it. I started to jog. Weird, I felt totally weird. I put my hands out.

“No,” yelled Harry. “Run normally. You can do it.”

I pumped my arms.

“Visualize the track,” Harry shouted. “See the track in your head.”

I focused. I could see a track. Was it right? I jogged slower and peeked.

“Noooo,” bellowed Harry. “Trust your inner runner.”

…. #%&*@#!*#$# …

Blindly, I jogged. I felt the track change. I peeked again. It was the turn. I stopped and glared back at Harry.

“You’re supposed to tell me,” I hollered. “I could have fallen.”

“Charlie, you knucklehead,” Harry yelled. “You felt it, didn’t you?”

He was right. I did feel it. I was stunned.

“Come on back here.”

Sans the blindfold, I jogged back.

“Tomorrow, we will get someone, maybe the Price girl, to run with you until you get used to the blindfold.”

“You knew I would feel the turn?”

“Only the good ones do,” Harry said.

“I want to run a lap with the blindfold.”

“Think you can?” Harry asked.

“Let’s see.”

Replacing the blindfold, I turned and ran off. This time I jogged a little faster. Again, I felt the contour change ever so slightly. I followed the turn. It changed again. I could feel the backstretch. Faster I ran. I felt the turn again.


It was exhilarating. I never felt anything like it. My strides bounced down the track. I could hear my shoes strike the surface and spring off it. I never heard that before. The early morning air smelled intoxicating as I sliced through it. I could even taste it.

I stopped near Harry and removed the blindfold.

“Only the good ones, huh?” I asked.

“That is correct, said Harry, full of himself. “You know what?”

“What?” I played along.

“It is time to find you a race.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Let’s Make A Deal

Chapter 26, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


Still, I needed a qualifying time. The Peach State Games was my one chance for the 2007 outdoor season. After Atlanta, the premier runners headed to Osaka, Japan, for the World Championships in late August. With the 14-hour time difference, I had to watch the competition on tape delay. In the 800 meters, not one American qualified for the medal race. Yes, there was hope for me.

Kenya’s Alfred Kirwa Yego caught Canada’s Gary Reed at the tape to win the gold in 1:47.09. Russia’s Yuri Borzakosky placed third.

Just an Oregon minute, did I read that right? The winning time was 1:47.09?

“Hell, I could run that in my sleep, Harry.”

“Charlie, you have trouble keeping your bowels from running in your sleep,” he said. “Sit and give me 30 mental pushups.”

“Harry, that Kenyan guy lunged at the finish. Shouldn’t I practice that?”

“When you are ready to lunge, you can visualize it.”

I also discovered being famous wasn’t all bad. Companies throughout Northern Indiana began to seek out our firm for consulting jobs. Even in the 21st century, the Olympics still meant something. The Times story, picked up by other papers, mentioned I worked as an engineer for Hoffman. Project managers began to ask for “that old guy who runs track.”

Initially, my boss was jealous and the worse to work for until I threatened to pursue training full-time. Realizing the jobs might follow, his attitude adjusted.

“Take all the time off, you want, Wells. The Olympics are important to us, too,” he said. “The work will be here waiting for you.”

… C’mon, I dare ya. Ask for a raise …

With the publicity came offers for endorsements. Keep in mind, I hadn’t qualified for anything, short of AARP. But some still wanted to cash in on my 15 minutes. Between work, training and Russian lessons, though, I had no time to check out the proposals. However, without a second thought, I did turn down an offer from Depends.

I needed an agent. So I took a chance. I called Melinda.

Knowing she wouldn’t come to the phone, I was prepared to pitch the idea to Dedra and have her relay it. Before the phone rang twice, Melinda picked it up.

“Yes, Charles, what do YOU want?”

Maybe the buzz had done some good.

Maybe all those roses and notes I sent helped.

Maybe Ralphie told her about Sheila.

I explained I needed someone to make sense of the offers flooding in. Melinda considered it for all of 20 seconds – and agreed, insisting on 25 percent of everything I got paid. I agreed in a heartbeat. We had a deal.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Go Ahead, Beet It

Chapter 26, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



Good ol’ Sheila, I could have killed her. A week after the interview, The Times ran a page one story detailing my Olympic Trials quest with a photo of my push-away-monkey Tai Chi posture. Any anonymity I enjoyed jumped out the window and ran for it.

Chicago TV stations 5 and 7 called, wanting to film my training. The sports radio stations asked me to do their shows. Even Dan Patrick wanted five minutes.

I should have said “no.” It was humiliating how they painted me as a 48-year-old nutjob with a Fountain of Youth fixation. Off the air, one offered 15-1 odds I wouldn’t make it. On the other hand, a few classmates I hadn’t heard from since high school called to wish me luck. One said he had trouble chasing his grandkids, much less running. But one nameless asshole asked if I had lost my mind. Even my barber doubted me.

Twice, I considered calling Sheila to complain. But knowing her magical ways, I was afraid of ending up at her place with consequences I didn’t need to visualize. Plus, most of my friends still treated me like warm beer, even Ralphie. All he got was a story hidden in the sports section despite his Trials-qualifying toss in Atlanta. Ralphie chalked it up to my history with Sheila and got over it.

Who knew what Melinda thought?

Worse, some who didn’t know me thought it had to be a publicity stunt.

“There goes that poor, deluded man,” I overheard a mother tell her 5-year-old at Walmart.

… at least, she didn’t say “old” …

But it did hurt, and I was angry. I ran with anger. I visualized with anger. I ate with anger.

In the face of my deepening turmoil, Harry proved unflappable. It was obvious to him that we could not waste a single second. My coach bought a compact disc player and a set of Russian language CDs that I could play while I slept.

“We need to power up some of those unused synapses,” Harry said. “The more brain connectors firing away, the better.”


“If we fail to challenge ourselves mentally on a daily basis, or even minute by minute, we lose vital brain capacity, and the synapses are the first to go,” he said. “By simply hearing a foreign language, perhaps you could resurrect a few. Certainly, it is plausible.”

I stared blankly at him.

“Yes, in your case, it is a longshot. But we must try.”

At first, the Russian jabbering kept me awake, but after I got used to it, I found it relaxing. Harry said that was a clear indication the CDs were doing some good. Maybe they were. I did develop a craving for borscht.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Looks Are Deceiving

Chapter 25, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



Eight a.m. struck, and Harry acted as if nothing had changed. But I had. No more granola, I wanted some bacon. But before Harry and I could tussle over breakfast, Jessie and Shannon flew in and crashed the kitchen table.

“Daddy,” Jessie managed between gulps of air. “Guess what.”

“Dad. Look, look,” huffed Shannon, waving The Times in my face.

The newspaper headline stopped my heart.

“Local man finds Fountain of Youth,” it read in big, bold Helvetica type.

“OH NO!”

Harry grabbed the paper, scanned it and started chuckling.

“You cannot quit now, Charlie baby.”

An Associated Press story, datelined Atlanta, told the tale of my five-month-old quest.

“Fifty-eight-year-old Chuck Wells has succeeded where Ponce de León failed,” I read out loud with horror. “Fifty-eight? Holy Jesus!”

Everybody laughed, my kids, Harry. They thought it hilarious I had grown 10 years older before their eyes.

“That’s it. I’m calling the paper. They owe me a correction.”

While Harry whipped up breakfast for Jessie and Shannon, I called The Times office. Next thing I knew I had a 4:30 p.m. appointment with the sports editor. This old man had something to tell him.

Or her, as I discovered. The sports editor was a familiar, pixie blonde: Sheila Anne Beaven. We dated in high school. We split when I went to Purdue for engineering, and Sheila went to Indiana University for journalism. Last thing I heard she was working for the Indianapolis Star.

But here she was.

“C.H.,” she cooed. “How arrrre you?”

“Call me Chuck,” I said. “That C.H. phase ended with high school.”

I offered my hand. She grasped it with both of hers and held it.

“Sure, Chuck, it’s sooo good to see you.”

“I had no clue you were back in Valpo. How long have you been back?”

“Oh, a couple of months. I got tired of picking up the pictures falling off the wall.”

“Off the wall?”

“Oh, you didn’t know. I worked in L.A. for a while. The L.A. Times. It was a nice gig. But the quakes were scaring me. I wanted to get out before L.A. slid into the ocean.”

“You worked in Los Angeles?”

“Yes, the last nine years,” Sheila said. “Maybe I got homesick, too. California’s nice, but I missed Indiana.”

“Well, it’s nice to see you,” I said.

We strolled back to her office. I sat in front of her desk cluttered with stacks of newspapers. The smell of ink permeated the building. A myriad of awards from Associated Press and the California Press Association covered the wall behind her.

“Sooooo,” Sheila started. “Looks like you did find the Fountain of Youth. You do look good, Chuck.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Lost In Thought

Chapter 24, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



“Yeah, so I have a few issues to deal with. Who doesn’t? But you’re not helping by interrogating me,” I said as my growing agitation began to show. “If you mean, did I feel old and stupid and out of step – no pun intended – the answer is ‘yes, I did.’ ”

Harry pushed the foot rest down and sat up.

“My question is do you feel the need to continue?”

A cold draft wafted over me as if someone had opened a window. I shivered.


“Yes,” said Harry. “Do you want to continue? It is not a difficult question, even for you.”

“Are we still in the tearing-down stage? Are you always this nasty to your athletes?”

Harry stood.

“I do what I think is best for each one. You, sir, need a good boot in the posterior. Now that you participated in that meaningless event and incurred further mental damage, you will need … ”

“A kick in the head? Right? Where do you get this malarkey?”

“Malarkey? I swear. You and your peers are some of the most narcissistic in the history of the world,” said Harry, waving his right index finger like a band leader. “Why do I need to explain anything? In my day, sir, we did what we were told. No questions asked.”


“So we did not feel a neurotic need to ask a basketful of simplistic questions every five minutes,” he said.

“Is it my fault we’re not sheep?”

I made a face.

“BBBBAAAAHHH!” I bleated.

Harry made a face.

“Enough of your childish sarcasm. Woe is the day that a baby boomer takes responsibility for anything.”

… here we go again …

“Your generation truly confounds me. I suppose you could blame your malaise on the acceleration of change during the past 40 years,” he said, rubbing his eyes again. “You boomers are probably the most technologically stressed of all time. And it shows.”

“Say what?” I was lost.

“See? said Harry, pacing a circle around me. “Space travel, computers, cellphones, iPods. No wonder you ask questions. It’s a flawed stalling tactic designed to keep you from falling further behind.”

“What’s the point, Harry?”

“And you have no patience either. Instant this, instant that, instant gratification always.”

“What’s your damned point?”

“And always skipping to the bottom line with no interest in how one gets there.”

“The point, if you please.”

“I saw your races.”

“You what?”

“I know the coach at Georgia Tech. He recorded your races and emailed them to me. They’re on your computer. You were beat before you ran the first step.”

“You were spying on me?”

“You boomers know what your problem is, Charlie?”

… who is this Charlie …

“You think too much.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Atlanta Or Cuss

Chapter 23, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



Thursday after work, Ralphie and I settled into his multi-dented Ford F1 pickup and cruised for Atlanta. I had less than 24 hours before I would run a 5:37 p.m. heat at Georgia Tech’s George C. Griffin Track and Field Facility.

But already I was in Angst City.

Was Harry right? Ralphie said no way.

“Don’t lissen to da ol’ nutjob,” he said. “Whut’s he know anyway? He’s probably forgot more dan he ever knew.”

Then it struck me.

“You’re an anarchist, aren’t you?

“So? So what if I am?”

“Nothing. Just sayin’. After all these years, you think you know somebody, but you really don’t. Maybe you shouldn’t even try.”

“Like Lindy?”


For the next 50 miles, I daydreamed about running against the best in Atlanta’s annual Peach State Games. Yeah, you can visualize only so many races. I was dying to see how I stacked up. On the other foot, I felt bad going against Harry’s wishes. What if I blew out a hamstring? What if terrorists blew up the track? What if …

“OK, whut da hell is an archivist?”

“Say what?”

“Whut makes ya think I’m an archivist?”

“Anarchist, man, an anarchist, someone who believes in anarchy. I noticed you’re always encouraging me to go against authority. Like Harry. What the hell is the deal?”

Ralphie mulled the question.

“For one, it’s mindless. Can’t stand people tryin’ to tell me whut to do. Like you.”

… this is going to be a long trip …

“And I don’t like to be labeled,” added Ralphie.

Back into reverie I plunged. Through the moonless night and countless bad radio stations, we took turns driving and arrived with daybreak. We checked in at a mom-and-pop motel off I-75, 15 miles from downtown Atlanta. I tried to sleep. But my inner clock would not allow it. Rest? Forget it.

Did Harry think I was going to freak out competing against 20-somethings? Did he think I didn’t have enough heart? Could he not be telling me something? Something I needed to know?

Ralphie’s competition started at 1:30, so I dropped him at Griffin before noon, ate breakfast at Waffle House and went back to the motel to wrestle with more self-doubt – and lost.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Mr. Good Track

Chapter 22, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


Being an ass was natural for Harry.

No pancakes for me. Just granola, and some orange and apple slices. If I were lucky, maybe a pear. And milk, lots of milk, with consequences I don’t need to tell you about. Yeeech.

In the 17 years since he last coached, Harry discovered what he thought were the benefits of alternative training. So we started with Tai Chi each morning. As you know, it’s all about the chi and not me.

“Tai Chi is an ancient, defensive art that every athlete should strive to perfect,” said Harry. “I regret not utilizing it sooner. It could have saved Wottle from himself.”

“Should I grow my hair and wear a golf cap, too?”


Harry wheeled his walker over and got in my face. Despite his recent acceptance of new methods, in many ways, he was still old school.

“Here, Sir, I do the teaching. You do the learning. I am the teacher. You are the student. Do we have an understanding, Charlie?”

I hated like hell being called Charlie, but I kept my mouth shut and nodded.

Then we practiced visualization. It taxed me mentally and emotionally. In other words, I was goofier than ever.

“Close your eyes. Focus. The starter’s gun rises, on your mark, BANG! You explode off the line. What do you see?”

“Darkness, Master.”

Harry rolled his walker over again, his nose stopping centimeters from mine.

“If you call me Master or Yoda, or even Hop-Sing one more time, I promise I will surgically remove your testicles and feed them to the pigeons. Do you comprehend, Sir?”

I nodded.

We practiced this malarkey until my mind melted. For the few minutes I got to run, I felt giddy. Harry had me jog a lap, maybe sprint the next, then visualize another until I achieved the Zen-like optimum he wanted. It was the same crap, over and over and …

“Stop, listen, feel your inner runner. What is he telling you? What does he want?”

Then …

“Sprint one circuit. Fast. Faster. Shed that tired, old skin.”

Then …

“Stop. Close your eyes. Feel your soul weep. Do not give in to those negative notions. Go ahead. DISMISS THEM.”

And …

“Jog another circuit. Nourish your inner runner with rich, positive energy.”

More …

“Circle the oval, again, again … ”

And …

“Center yourself. Rrreeaaacch down deep. Close your eyes. Visualize the process. Own the process.”

And …

“Lie face down on the track. Listen. Listen to the track. Smell. Smell the track. Taste. Taste the track.”


Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

The Power Of Suggestion

Chapter 22, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


Tossing out the club members, Harry attacked me with his evaluative tools. First, I endured a homemade IQ exam, including an essay question about the type of pen I preferred, ballpoint or felt-tipped.

Harry would make no commitment until he knew my mental capacity. I tried hard to tolerate it. I wanted a coach. He tested my verbal skills with associative drills. He made me guess each scribbling in a series of abstract pencil drawings. I swear the last one looked like Frank Shorter. He peppered me with psychological queries.

“If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

“If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?”

“If you were a man, what kind …”

I was tempted to walk out on that one. As soon as Harry was sure I had a brain, he measured my head, my neck, my biceps, my fingers, my calf muscles, my feet – and grunted at each number. Then he measured from my right heel to the back of my left knee and whistled.

The only thing he didn’t do was open my mouth and look at my teeth. Me? I didn’t ask for his AARP card or anything. Truth be told, if I knew then what I know now about Harry Nurmi, I would have torn out of that room, screeching. How clueless was I? After Harry agreed to take on my challenge, I suggested my new mentor move to Valparaiso and stay at my house until he could find a new place.

STOP! There’s no need to pile on. I’ve taken enough verbal abuse.

YES, I might have mental issues caused by my mother. Who doesn’t?

NO, Harry is just my coach. I’m not his bitch.

At the time, I wanted to facilitate training. I thought it was a good idea. It made sense. I didn’t want to drive to Michigan City every day. Maybe, too, I was honored, maybe a little in awe, to have a big-time coach, even if he were years past his prime. Sure, it was supposed to be for a few weeks, a month at the most, until he found a suitable place in a Valparaiso assisted-living facility.

He’s still looking.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

I Can See Clearly Now

Chapter 21, Blog 5

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



“We all have glaucoma,” said Claire with a theatrical, all-encompassing wave of her hand. “Or think we do. You know, others wish they did. We do have a waiting list for the club.”

“Don’t make up stuff, Claire,” said Frank. “He might believe you.”

“Did Indiana change the law or something?” I asked, passing the joint to Claire.

“Sir, I will have you know it is perfectly legal in my room,” Nurmi said. “Tyler’s management does encourage periodic attempts at limited socialization.”

“Isn’t he so delicate?” Claire asked. “I mean, I could sit here all day and listen to the bastard.”

“Would you care to enlighten us on the nature of your mission?” Nurmi asked. “Or should we start a game of 20 Questions? This poor bastard would like to know what it is you seek.”

“It was my understanding pot made you mellow,” I whispered to Claire.

“Not Harry,” she giggled. “It just makes him even more verbose and pompous.”

“I said, young man, be a good boy and tell us what you want,” Harry said.

… now or never, bad boy …

“I need a coach,” I said. “I’m trying to qualify for the Olympics. Right now, I need to shave off a few seconds from my best time, but I think I’m stuck on a plateau. Does that answer your question?”

… I see someone else can’t hold his reefer madness …

Everyone turned and stared at Harry, puffing perfect circles. He paused. You could tell he grooved on the attention.

“A coach.”

“Yes, I want a coach.”

“That is the most ludicrous thing I have heard all day,” Harry chuckled between puffs. “What? I suppose you consider yourself an athlete?”

“Well, yeah, a runner. Is that so hard to believe?”

“HA! That is a genuine, 100 percent hoot,” Harry bellowed. “This country stopped making runners late last century. They went out of style, you see.”

The record changed with a flop.

“Hey, that’s “Hotel California,’ ” I said. “The Eagles.”

“That’s one of my favorites,” said Claire, taking her turn puffing on the joint. “But Pink Floyd’s good, too.”

“I still like Led Zeppelin,” I said.

“They’re not bad,” Claire said. “What others do you know?”

“Got any Elvis Costello?”

“What is this?” asked Harry. “Music Appreciation class?”

“Oh, Harry, coach the poor boy,” said Claire. “He’s not a bad guy.”

Everyone turned toward Harry again. He sat up and stared at me.

“Why should I? I do not know the first thing about him, do I? I do not know what he intends to run.”

“That’s easy,” I said. I’m sure I was stoned. “The 800, the 800 meters.”

“That’s a sprint, isn’t it?” Claire asked. “I just love sprints.”

“The 800?” asked Harry. “I am afraid the 800 is a race for real men. It is no sprint.”

“Oh, you’re so technical,” said Claire.

“What makes you think you could compete meaningfully in the 800?” Harry asked.

“Because I CAN,” I asserted under a growing buzz.

Except for the Eagles, the room fell silent.

“We shall see,” said Harry.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang