On The Clock

Chapter 30, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



Stopwatches don’t lie – enough. Despite racing away with the club events, I could not break 1:49. Instead of improving, I was stuck on a plateau or worse, fading.

It was simple. I needed better competition and no more train wrecks like Terre Haute. But Harry had trouble getting past Terre Haute. My angry burst of speed mystified him.

“Criminy! We have to figure out how to light that firecracker of yours, Charlie,” said Harry, scratching his chin. “We can’t have you fall on your ass every race.”

“And cuss everyone out,” I added.

“That was the best part,” Harry said. “I thought I had seen it all, but I did enjoy that immensely.”

“Glad you liked it,” I said. “Personally, I thought it sucked. I could have gotten hurt a lot worse than I did.”

“Don’t know who was more horrified,” said Harry. “The fans or the club president. He would not shake my hand or even look at me. You know how I hate poor winners.”

“So what the hell do we do now, coach?”

No more club races, he said. Despite USA Track and Field sanctioning, they could not help me produce a qualifying result. I needed a 1:46.50 – and fast.

“Doggone it! I gotta run against somebody better.”

Harry’s eyes flashed.

“For probably the very first time, Charlie, I think you are right.”


That narrowed the options significantly. By design, there were only a precious few opportunities, outside of college competition, to run in meets with enough pre-Olympic Trials firepower. I wanted a meet close to home. Harry wanted to go to California. We settled on the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa. They were the next weekend, April 24-26.

To procure an invite to such a premier event, Harry had to phone everyone he knew in Iowa. He might have dropped a few dollars under the table, too. But I wasn’t supposed to know anything about that. Since I didn’t have the time or money to go to California, Harry warned that Drake would be my best – and maybe only – chance to qualify.

“Really, Harry, do I need any more pressure? Want to tell me the fate of the free world is riding on this, too?”

“Charlie, we’re talking Beijing 2008. As you know, it’s a Communist country.”


“Do not limit it to just the free world.”

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

Walk, Don’t Run

Chapter 22, Blog 4

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



Under no circumstances would Harry allow any distance work, pointing out I already had plenty of miles on the odometer. Quantity training was out. Quality training was in.

… say no more …

Tuesday morning, we drove up to The Pines skiing facility, three miles north of the high school. There, Harry had me lope down the biggest hill, hoping to lengthen my strides. But first, I had to visualize loping down the hill for 20 minutes.

Soon after I started training with Harry, my freshmen buddies, now curious sophomores, began to show when they heard I had a real coach. They had no trouble making fun of my Tai Chi routine until they tried it – and loved it. So most days around 6:30 a.m. at the high school, there were at least three – if not four or five – of us slicing the early-morning air with defensive artistry, and sucking heaven chi through the top of our heads and earth chi through the soles of our feet. Wonder what Rockard said when he saw the kids’ new stretches. I bet he didn’t get as crazy as Harry did when I told him about Atlanta.

“Absolutely not. Forget it.”

If I wanted competition, I should visualize it, he said.

“The mind is your most powerful tool,” Harry huffed. “Refine the information it receives. Sharpen your reactions. You can teach your muscles to respond. Think it. Save the miles. You will need them. Believe me … You will need them.”

“Harry, I already signed up.”

“Close your eyes and visualize.”

“I already have the time off.”

“Breathe deeply.”

“My friend wants to go. He’s a shot putter.”

“I do not give a solitary damn about any shot putter. Never have, never will. They have brains the size of a pea. But God Almighty, you have to watch them. That pea is always working.”


“All I know is if you go and get hurt …”

”I won’t get hurt.”

“I mean your psyche. It is not ready. I can tell. It has not learned to … ”

“I’m going.”


With that, Harry thundered away as fast as his walker would roll.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Olympic Size That, Please

Chapter 21, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



I thought I had hit the lottery. Wishing Rockard happy fishing, I hauled ass over to Michigan City and started to hunt for the right nursing home. There was no Mylar’s. There was no Sylar’s. But there was a Tyler’s Retirement Village. The kooky nurse at the front desk said it was nap time. Could I come back later? How about next week?

Then she chastised me for daring to call her establishment a nursing home.

“It’s an assisted-living facility, sir.”

As I waited for her to look up the room number, my childhood memories cascaded in front of my eyes. I remembered the 1968 Olympics. I remembered them well because they were the first ones I saw. At the Games of Mexico City, 200-meter sprinters Smith and Carlos won gold and bronze medals, respectively. But historically, they were better known for their fist-clenched, Black Power protest on the medal stand. If Nurmi had coached either one, he had to be special.

Or a special nut.

Didn’t matter. I adored those Olympics and wanted a personal link to them. Here was my connection. I had to meet this guy, so I said I was Nurmi’s second cousin all the way from Finland. With the strangest frown imaginable, the nurse straightened and told me his room was the last one on the left. Down the sun-drenched hallway, I skipped. His door was closed, so I started to knock. There was a faint aroma of incense, cherry, I think. Then I smelled …


I pecked on the door. A noisy minute later, it creaked open. A little black head, with big ears flanking a hairless noggin, peered at me through blood-shot eyes. Slowly, he rolled out behind a sky-blue walker with silver racing stripes. He wore a beautiful dark gray suit, possibly Armani.  A gold earring completed his masterful ensemble. Hey, was that an ascot around his neck? I thought it was magenta, maybe burgundy.

“You’re smoking pot,” I said.

“And you, sir? Are you a narcotics agent?”

Not waiting for my answer, he rolled in reverse through the doorway and tried to fling the door shut, but I caught it with my foot. He kept rolling. I followed.

“I’m here to see Coach, Coach Nurmi.”

The little man stopped. With a puzzled look, he glared at me.

“What in the name of Hades do you want?”

“You’re the Coach?”

“What? Not impressed? I suppose you are a reporter looking for an angle. I have a suggestion. Go down to the lakefront, and take a long walk off a short pier. I hear the view at the bottom of Lake Michigan is spectacular.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Gone Fishin’

Chapter 21, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



Rockard stopped tugging junk out of the bottom of his linen closet and peered at me as if I were a true orphan. Sadly, he shook his head.

“Ya goofball. I’m tellin’ you I wouldn’t know what to do. I have no experience with that, zip, nada, zlich. I work with children, not old guys.”

“Thanks,” I said sarcastically. “Thanks a lot.”

“You know what I mean,” he said “With kids, you can run the piss out of ’em. You? Ya might need a specialist.”

I searched that craggy, bearded face. Indeed, he told the truth as he knew it. Dejected, I turned and shuffled my feet toward the door.

“You know what …” Rockard started.

I spun around.


“Wwweeelll …”

“Well what?”

“There’s, uh, well, uh, naaaaaaah. Jist forget it.”

“You know, I could come up there, too. I bet it could be a lot of fun. Gee, I haven’t fished since third grade. Do they still use worms?”

Fear jumped out of Rockard’s eye sockets.

“DAMN! All right, already. Uncle. There I said it.”

“Great, who is it?”

“There’s this guy. Gawd, please have mercy on my soul.”

“Who? Who is it? Do I know him?” I asked with all the patience of a kid on Christmas morning.

“I think, I think he’s, well, in a, uuuuummmm, nursing home? Over in Michigan City.

“A nursing home? Who the hell … ”

“As far as I know, said Rockard. “Truth be known, he could be dead by now.”

“Coach, I’ll take that chance.”

“Still has his mind, I think. Jist can’t take care of hisself. Know what I mean? Physically.

“Has his mind?” I asked. “Certainly a plus.”

“Shuddup, Fred. I don’t have to tell you nothing.”

“OK, OK, please continue.”

“Anyway, last time I heard, I think it was Mylar’s or Sylar’s. Something like that.”


“This guy – he coached during the sixties and seventies. You know. When you were a kid.”

“The sixties? He coached in the sixties, and he still has his mind. You sure?”

“Are you gonna lissen or not?”

“Go ahead. I’m listening.”

“Nurmi. His name’s Nurmi. Harry Nurmi. And, Fred, be careful. He’s a little different.”

“Never heard of him.”

“That’s because back then, nobody this side of Doc Counsilman, gave a shit who coached who,” said Rockard. “Anyway, I’m pretty sure Nurmi coached Carlos or Smith. You know, those guys who got kicked out in Mexico. Maybe both. I don’t remember for sure.”

I was stunned.

“You mean, THE John Carlos and Tommie Smith? Mexico City 1968?”

“Are there others?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Beggar Boy Blues

Chapter 21, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


Too much information? Really? You think so?

Sterling packed up and took off. I felt lower than a slug. All I had was one masochistic race and my quest – or delusion. Whichever you prefer. Peabody sure thought it was the latter.

What did he say?

“At his age, he has no real chance of running in any Olympics.”

… try saying it in a condescending tone…

“Even you must realize, at your age, you have no real chance of running in any Olympics.”

… perhaps give it the pompous asshole touch …

“It is well known that at such an advanced age, one has no chance of running in the Olympics.”

… now go make ’em stick it up their ass …

Cursing myself all the way home, I vowed I would hold on no matter what. It was all I had. And if I knew one thing, it was I needed a coach.


I sucked up my pride and trotted over to see Rockard. This time I dropped by his latté-colored bungalow, hoping he hadn’t run off to Minnesota or Canada or wherever that summer cabin of his was. Rockard was home, but he was packing.

“I need you, man,” I said as a waif might.

“The fish need me more,” said Rockard, intent on finding his wading boots. “I should be wearing them out in a thigh-deep creek, casting for rainbow trout by now.”

“But you know what I’m trying to do here. I’m right there, Coach, knocking on the door. Can’t you stay and help me?”

“Fred,” said Rockard. “I jist can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Cuz I don’t wanna.”

“That sounds selfish.”

“OK, maybe it is, but all I git off is the summer. And it’s gittin’ shorter all the time. And after that is football, and then I got wrestlin’, and then I got track … ”

The coach who looked like Santa wasn’t going to give me anything, so I tried empathy.

“I know, I know,” I said. “You need a rest.”

“And the damned summer is almost over,” Rockard said.

“Can’t you help me for a week?”

“Look here, I can’t help you even if I wanted,” he said. “I’ve never trained anyone for that.”

“Coach, look. I’m begging you.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Don Quixote’s On The Track

Chapter 18, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



I had heard enough.

“What the hell do you know about the right thing to do?”

“I don’t like da sound of dat … ”

“Remember the time you hit a baseball that smashed ol’ man McCracken’s windshield?”

“YOU hit dat baseball,” said Ralphie. “I wuz pitchin’. I told ya we should have scrammed, but nnnnnoooo. Ya had ta go tell him.”

It WAS the right thing to do, Ralphie.”

“So DIS is da right thing ta do, Chuck?”


“Alienate your wife, your kids, your friends because of whut – some fool notion? Sounds kinda selfish to me.”

“Yeah, I guess it does. I don’t know.”

“Then why do it?”

After six weeks of studying the question, I wished I had a clear-cut answer. Instead, it occurred to me I had entered the ill-fated quest stage, making me the ancient Don Quixote of track and field. No doubt I was the right age.

“I guess it’s the same reason Vince did it,” I said.

“And dat is … ”

“Because he could,” I said.

“Because he could?” echoed Ralphie.

“That’s right,” I said. “And did you happen to notice how his friends stuck by him? No matter what?”

Ralphie leaned back on the sofa and stared at the ceiling.

“All dis bullshit for whut?” he asked. “And don’t tell me it’s worth it. Cuz it’s not.”

“No, I can’t say that. Maybe it’s not.”

“Dat’s real progress,” mocked Ralphie. “Why didn’t ya think of dat a month ago?”

“All I know is it’s all I got left, Man.”

“Don’t give me that ‘nobody else is gonna do it’ crap,” said Ralphie. “I’m way past dat. That works only on Boy Scouts.”

“What if I told you I broke 1:49 last Saturday?”

Ralphie’s face froze in wonderment. I thought I would have to resort to Melinda’s time-tested slap upside the head.

“Dat’s crazy,” Ralphie finally said. “I’d say you were lyin.”

“More like coasting.”

I know, I know. But I felt like bragging. I had to tell somebody. Freshmen don’t give a hoot about anything. Nothing seems impossible to them – yet.

“Dat means… ”

“I can do it.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

A Race A Day Keeps Doctor Away

Chapter 15, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang




Stupefied, Billy and I took turns squinting at Geri’s stopwatch. It was true. There it was in big, black digital figures. The over-the-top effort had taken everything I had – and then some. My lungs ached, unable to pay a crushing oxygen debt. My lactic-acid-gutted, paper-thin legs rustled in the early spring breeze. Finally, I sat down in the middle of the track before I fell down. The kids exchanged knowing glances, probably wondering if an ambulance would be needed.

Billy stuck out his hand. I reached up and shook it. Think he was looking for a pulse.

“Where’s my twenty?” he asked, grinning.

“You couldn’t beat me … by 10 meters … if you had to,” I said, trying to catch my breath.

“You do the trash talking BEFORE the race, Wells,” said Geri. “Do I have to tell you everything?”

Billy laughed. Geri laughed. And even I laughed.

“That’s your first race?” asked Billy.

“First race in a hundred years,” I said.

“I really thought you had me that last hundred,” he said. “I mean, you were cooking.”

“You could smell it?” I asked between chuckles or were they heaves for air. “Think I deep fried every muscle I’ve got.”

“Want to go again?” Billy asked.

“No, thanks. All I got is one race a day.”

Billy looked at Geri and then at me.

“You’re going to have to work on that, Mr. Wells.”

“Call me Chuck. Only my coach can call me Wells.”

“That’s me,” Geri said. “Ya shoulda seen him when we started. Didn’t even know which way to run around the track.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Love It Or Leave It

Chapter 13, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



“So what’s your excuse?” Geri asked, sensing my mood shift. “I suppose your wife makes you, right?”

That woke me.

… apparently, she doesn’t know Mrs. Wells …

“Ummm, no, I think Melinda truly hates my training. It takes time away from her and the kids. But my girls, they’re all for it. They’re all in. They like to encourage me.”

“But something tells me ya don’t care for it much,” she said.” Am I right?”

“When I was young, it was like standard practice,” I said. “It was second nature to say we hated anything good for us like running or reading or eating vegetables. Know what I mean? If you said you liked those things, you were branded as weird or not from this planet. You know how peer pressure works.”

“So why run if ya hate it so much?”

“Means to an end, I guess. I don’t dislike it as much as I say I do. That’s still a reflex thing. My body, though, does have its own ideas.”

“OK, jist so I know where ya stand. I don’t mean to discourage ya,” said Geri. “Jist the opposite. If ya work at it, I mean, your strides are good – for an old dude.”

“Gee, thanks, Coach. You think I’m going to stroke out, don’t you?”

“Knock it off, Wells. I’m saying physically ya can go a long way. And I can help ya with that if ya want. I can tell ya what to run, what to work on, that sort of stuff.”


“But I can’t help ya with what’s between your ears.”

I looked at Geri. She was sincere. I still wasn’t.

“That’s easy.” I said. “There’s nothing there.”

She nodded in agreement.

“I can tell,” Geri said. “Ya might need someone smarter than me to help with that.”

I tried to stay positive.

“So you think I can still motor, huh?”

“Let’s find out,” Geri said. “Let’s have ya race somebody. How about Saturday?”

“How about a month from Saturday?”

Geri ignored me.

“And I know jist who to get.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang