Dream On

Chapter 43, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



Groggy, I could hear myself mumbling, trying to wake up. My bed felt odd, hard. Straining through the haze, my eyes could not focus. I was stuck in that twilight land between sleep and wakefulness after suffering through the stupidest dream imaginable.

Lifting my head, I …


My whole body snapped into a spasm.

“MAN! That was some nightmare.”

I turned my head to see if Melinda were still asleep – and saw two faces stare back.

… you’re still dreaming ….

The faces lit up.

“Hey, Princess.”

“Wh-wha-what the hell …” I stammered.

It was a little black man with a gold earring, grinning at me.

“You poor, pathetic excuse for a human being,” he said. “You did it.”

He shook my hand.

“I know you?” I asked.

“Uh-oh, doc,” he said over his shoulder. “I think he’s still out of it.”

“No, I’m just kidding,” I said. “I’d know your ugly face anywhere. What’d you do? Hit me with a bat?”

“Guess I should have let you practice lunging for the tape after all,” he said.

“Your name’s Henry, right?”

“Mr. Wells, I’m Dr. Wagner,” said the young man. “I think you have a concussion. You hit your head hard on the track.”

“Yeah, I do have one helluva headache,” I said. “I hit it on the track?”

“Yes, you knocked yourself silly,” said Harry. “The EMTs had to scrape you up, so they could run the next race.”

“No victory lap?”

“HA! You’re lucky you’re still alive, you big dummy,” said Harry. “After you hit your head, they think your heart may have stopped.”

“I don’t think it’s restarted.”

“You almost screwed it up by dying,” said Harry, stroking his chin. “On second thought, think of the symbolism. You could have been a legend like that warrior who ran the first marathon – and died.”

“No, thanks,” I said. “You knew him personally, right?”

“Now I know he’s OK,” said Harry.

“Where’s Melinda?” I asked.

“They are sitting in for your sorry ass in the press room,” Harry said. “Congratulations, you finally ran a decent race. First one of the year!”

“And the last one, too,” I said. “I think I’m paralyzed.”

Like a turtle on his back, I rocked and tried to get up.


Melinda walked in with Shannon and Jessie. They were all smiles and kisses. Jessie wore my third-place medal.

“Can we get a pizza, Dad?” asked Shannon.

“Go ahead,” I said. “What took so long?”

“I think we picked up another endorsement,” said Melinda.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Defibrillators,” my wife the agent said.

“Are we going to China, Daddy?” asked Jessie, pinching the medal.

“Not today, Sugar.”

Only then, did I realize some of my fan club was still missing.

“Where’s Ralphie and Nicky?” I asked.

“Uncle Ralphie’s still at the press conference,” Shannon said, confirming my fears.

“That’s great,” I said. “What lies is he telling?”

“He’s not,” said Melinda.

“But Uncle Fred sure is,” said Jessie.

Copyright © 2013 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang


Fame Nothing But Lame

Chapter 41, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



The gears in my head locked. My mouth hung open, and my tonsils flapped in the wind.

“You can close your trap now, Hon.”

“Why the hell did Uncle Fred do that?”

“You will have to ask him,” said Melinda. “He won’t tell me anything. Just says how proud he is of you. He wanted to do something.”

I went over to Uncle Fred and extended my hand. He shook it heartily.

“Thank you for making the trip,” I said.

“The journey is all my pleasure,” he replied. “I would not have missed it for the world.”

“I appreciate what you did, but we can’t accept it,” I said. “It wouldn’t be right.”

“I knew you would say that,” said Uncle Fred with a smile. “I made reservations for Beijing, too.”

… what a freakin’ nut, he MUST be relation …

“Omigod, I think you’re jumping the gun, Fred.”

“Could be, but I made sure they’re cancelable, just in case,” he said. “I won’t have to cancel them, will I?”

“The way I feel, you better get on the phone now.”

“Should I call my bookie, too?”

“Don’t even go there,” I said.

It came out during dinner at Skinner’s that Fred had financed the tickets and hotel rooms with his “winnings” from betting on me. I suppose Las Vegas odds makers took one look at my age and decided like most, a snowball had a better chance of making the final. I still didn’t know much about him, but now I wondered what exactly Fred did for a living. He did know a few more long-lost tales from my childhood and was delighted to tell them.

Sunday night, I couldn’t sleep. The phone kept jangling. Ralphie and Nicky drank and told stories. Harry told stories. Uncle Fred kept asking how I felt …

“You’re not betting on me again, are you?” I asked.

“No, no, of course not,” he said. “That’s too much pressure.”

… he’s bet the farm …

Was it a mistake to bring everyone to Eugene? It didn’t matter. Thanks to the media, everyone in town knew me and my story. On Monday, they couldn’t wait to prove it. Everyone – my new best friend was anyone over 50 – wanted to wish me luck. I knew I should have been grateful they gave a damn.

But it was a freak show, and I was the star. Every question, gesture or cough annoyed me in my sleep-deprived state.

… being famous sucks. Who can stand it …

All I wanted was to center myself, maybe take a nap. Instead, I teetered on the edge. Forget the final. The real question was could I make it through the day without killing someone?

Ask Uncle Fred. He was giving 5-2 odds in favor of murder.

Copyright © 2013 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Chapter 41, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



The press conference that followed spun into a green and yellow University of Oregon blur. My inquisitors demanded to know why dogs could scare me into running like Carl Lewis. So I told the story of how I outran Cujo when he threatened to turn me into dog food. I told it at least a dozen times. My audience was incredulous. All but the Los Angeles Times guy in the front row began to cackle at the absurdity. Instead, he fixated on obtaining a certified copy of my birth certificate for his doubting editor.

I would have to call Melinda to fax it.

Or better, she could bring it. I needed to call her.

… she’ll never believe this …

“I don’t believe it!”

The reporters also appreciated my abbreviated tango with Mr. Genesee. After all, every story needs a bad guy, they said.

The rest of the show featured my coach. Rightfully, Harry took credit for getting me a second chance – again. As soon as I sprawled on the track, he lobbied the Trials chiefs for a do-over. He knew all about Nicole Teter and the three others who fell in the women’s 800 – and advanced to the final. I, too, would get one more race.

But, there was a catch. The chiefs said Franz and another had complained about the guys Harry hired to “motivate” me. There would be no more barking, they said. Harry promised to obey. At that point, I didn’t care. The minute I was done, I called Melinda.

“Forget what it costs,” I yelled into the phone. “You get the kids and get out here. Now!”

I winked at Harry.

“Use the damn Master Card. I don’t care what it costs. Maybe you can extort the diaper company for some more money,” I said. “How many times am I going to run in an Olympic Trials final?”

Harry tugged at my sleeve.

“Yeah, yeah. Harry’s lonely. Bring Dedra, too.”

Late Sunday afternoon, we picked up my fan club, complete with assistant coaches Ralphie and Nicky, at the Eugene airport. Uncle Fred was there, too.

Uncle Fred?

“What the hell is he doing here?” I whispered to Melinda as I hoisted her two massive pieces of luggage off the carousel.

“Hon, you will never … ”

“Enough is enough,” I said. “I don’t know who he thinks he is.”

“Charles, he …”

“Is he threatening you?”

“You’re close,” said Melinda. “He paid for everyone’s plane ticket.”

“I don’t care what he paid for,” I said and then let my brain catch up. “He what?”

Melinda slowly shook her head yes.

“And he got us rooms at the Hilton.”

Copyright © 2013 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Alive And Bickering

Chapter 33, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



If only fate would pace itself. Give us one bad thing at a time. Maybe a bad thing followed by a good one, then a bad one, then maybe a couple of good things.

Doesn’t work like that, does it?

Two ball-busters minutes apart pushed me to the brink. Both our Olympic dreams – poof. The only thing that kept me from jumping into Lake Michigan was the need to know about Ralphie. Dropping the Olympic Committee’s letter, I searched Melinda’s contorted face for an excuse not to run out in front of the first semi.

“Is he …”

“No,” said Melinda. “He’s still alive.”

“What the hell happened?”

“Got drunk. Hit a tree. Broke both legs. His truck’s totaled. Bottom line, he’ll live. He’s over at Porter.”

Hustling over to Porter Hospital, I found a doped-up Ralphie trapped in a fresh body cast up to his waist. He was glassy-eyed and a tiny more delirious than usual.

“Well, looky here,” snorted Ralphie. “Da great track star hisself comes to pay me a visit. Dis is truly an unexpected honor.”

“You know, Ralphie, you really don’t have to go to all this trouble just to get my attention,” I said. “One broken leg would have been sufficient.”

“Go screw yarself, ya stupid bastard.”

“Shut up and tell me what happened.”

After we got the other customary insults out of the way, I told Ralphie about the USOC letter.

“Dey are jist ass wipes,” said Ralphie. “It’s illegal as hell. Take ’em ta court.”

“No, I’m done with it,” I said. “I can’t take any more. It’s become a freaking soap opera.”

Propping his meaty elbows for support, Ralphie struggled to sit halfway up.

“Lissen ta me, dogshit brain. Ya gonna ta fight dis, and ya gonna ta win it. Don’t ya start givin’ in ta dose buttheads.”

“Are you crazy?  It’s nothing but bureaucracy. It’ll take five months before I ever get a hearing.”

Ralphie grunted, lifted himself higher on the bed and looked me in the eye.

“Plow dis through dat dogshit, numbnuts. If I can’t go, ya big, goddamned dumb ass … “

Ralphie gathered his strength.

“YOU GOTTA GO!” he thundered.

The words smacked me in the face and ricocheted around the room. I stood dumbfounded for all of 30 seconds. Regaining what little sense I had left, I grinned.

“What are you going to do? Chase me on your crutches?”

Ralphie grunted again, sank down and started to snore.

I crawled back home.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

About Time

Chapter 31, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



My racing peers twisted and bended and dipped with deep, soulful moans. Me? Warming up for two hours? If I got any looser, I’d be a Slinky. My legs jellified 45 minutes ago. Still, I did two, last toe touches with my legs crossed.

… don’t you dare hold anything back …

“Let’s go. Let’s go.” The starter gruffed.

He was past impatient, nearing grouchy. Could we help it if he’d already started 86 races today? This was the only one we gave a damn about. In a sudden attack of lethargy, the runners shuffled back to the line with all the gusto of prisoners returning to their cells. They knew a start with maximum thrust, just seconds away, would require every last calorie. I tried to follow their lead but couldn’t. My adrenal glands pumped 20 gallons a second. I was ready to blast off and out of my skin. First, though, we had to squeeze behind the skinny, white line.

“Take your mark.”

We coiled.


And sprang.


Starving cheetahs at dinnertime.

The grunting. Loudest I ever heard.

… the fans, can they hear this …

We whip through turn one. I’m caught in the middle.

… not bad, don’t panic, not bad …

I’m seven feet behind the leader.

… the pace – it’s too quick …

Down the back stretch, I fade to sixth.

… where’s that second rocket booster …

A horrid thought creeps in.

… did you warm up too long …

My legs answer with a wobble.

… c’mon, guys, let’s go, PLEASE …

I cross the line in sixth. The bell tolls one lap to go.

The leader is within spitting range. But I don’t have any saliva.

I don’t have anything.

Is that my check engine light flashing?

… OK, it’s time to panic …

And then, out of nowhere …


I look left. Some idiot with a Mohawk is barking at me. He scampers along in the infield. He lunges at me, snaps. I flash back to the neighborhood devil dog trying to eat me for breakfast.

“AAHHHH!!!” I scream.

My legs shift gears.

… THANK YOU, Harry …

I leave the Mohawk in my wake. My legs threaten to leave me behind. Accelerating down the back stretch, I run down the fifth- and fourth-place tots. The third I cut down on the curve. Second place, I zip by at the head of the front stretch.

… look out, Top Doggie …

He shifts, too. I still pull even. We’re neck and neck.

I hear the crowd buzz. Building, building …

Twenty yards to go. The lactic acid kicks in.

My legs ignite. I sniff smoke.

… uh-oh …

He beats me by half a stride.

I struggle to stand. My legs are melted rubber bands. I fall to my knees. I see Harry in front of me, screaming. I can’t hear him. Not a word. I turn to look at my legs behind me. They’re throbbing, blood red. Squinting through the sunlight, I shield my eyes to read the scoreboard. Up in second place is the name “Thompson, UCLA.”

But the time is mine.


Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

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

Superstitious Minds

Chapter 28, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



I pondered the question. What superstitions did I have? What could I do before a race to help put my mind at ease? Did I do anything special before races in high school?

“No, I don’t think so.”

Harry frowned.

“Are you telling me you are not superstitious? You have nothing to help place yourself in a higher zone of comfort? Nothing we could incorporate into a pre-race routine.”

“I don’t even have a rabbit’s foot.”

“Are you sure? Nothing?”

“Nope. Nada. Ask Melinda,” I said. “She’s the superstitious one.”

“Could you borrow something from her?”

“Well, she does have this one bra she considers lucky,” I said.

“What about Shannon or Jessie?”

“Black cats?”

Growing frustrated, Harry rubbed his forehead.

“How can this be?”

“I don’t know. I’m new at this.”

“You baby boneheads,” said Harry with mounting disdain. “You have no imagination.”

“OK, coach, tell me. What would you do?”

With the question, Harry calmed. He smiled.

“When I was just getting started, I had this one sprinter. Man, oh man, he was one for the books. He had to take a bubble bath the night before every race. The head case would make so many bubbles that the tub would overflow. Get the picture?”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“He would sit in that tub full of bubbles and stick his feet up around the faucet, see? And then he would talk to them,” said Harry, starting to tilt on his walker.

“He’d talk to his feet?” I asked.

“Yes, his damned feet,” said Harry. “He would act like their coach. That is because I always declined to address them. Anyway, he would give them a pep talk or instructions, tell them what to do depending on how the race developed. It was the strangest thing you ever saw.”

I shook my head.

“Nah, I couldn’t do anything like that,” I said.

My coach appeared defeated, almost distraught, as if I had said I couldn’t tie my shoe.

… go ahead, tell him …

“Is there anything that would jack you up before a race? A song? A Biblical passage? Naked women? Anything?”

I thought again.

“The only thing I can think of …”

Hope rushed back into his eyes.


“I-I, uh, I, well, I did have a, uh, a dog scare the piss out of me that one time.”

“Dog? I thought that was pure fiction for the news media.”

“No, he was real. My heart pumped so fast, I thought it would throw a rod.”

“What kind of dog?”

I could hear the wheels grind.

“German shepherd, I think. I didn’t ask for his papers. It still makes my heart go into spasms.”

Harry stood, lost in thought, rocking back and forth slowly in his walker.

“You didn’t make that up for your girlfriend?”

“That was over in high school, Harry.”

“Dog. Hmmm. We will have to work on that.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Control Issue

Chapter 28, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



It was March and I could feel myself sliding headfirst into a bottomless pit of anxiety. Breaking the seal on Year 2 of training, I fretted I couldn’t’ qualify for a backyard Olympics, much less the U.S. Olympic Trials. I was running scared – was I becoming stale?

With the temperature hovering in the mid-40s for the past few days, Harry let me return to the Valparaiso High track. I had to. Indoor training sucked. I needed to get out and run.

During the cold months, I had done maybe a thousand 800s in my head, at least 22 of them world-record breakers. My legs felt the best they ever had. They should. I barely worked them. But I couldn’t shake the worry I needed to do more no matter what Harry claimed about visualization. There had to be more.

Harry was concerned, too.

“What should I make for dinner tonight? Dedra’s coming over,” he said, ignoring the obvious signs of my growing angst.

“I don’t care,” I said, stretching my legs into nicely formed pretzels. “Shouldn’t we start ramping up, you know. Maybe do some intervals or something?”

… oh no, not intervals …

“Probably spaghetti,” said Harry. “The girls enjoy spaghetti, don’t they?”

“My legs feel like spaghetti,” I lied.

Harry caught that one. He spun around.

“Have you been running behind my back again?” he snapped.

“No, of course not,” I lied again. Yes, I had been running two miles in my head during lunch a couple of times a week. It was nothing Harry needed to know.

“Good,” said Harry, appeased. The sun peeped over his shoulder. “Perhaps, we should concoct a pre-race routine.”

“A routine?” I blurted, losing the grip on my ankle behind my head. I sprawled forward. “Does that mean …”

“Yes, son, a routine. It is time to get serious,” said Harry. “Any superstitions you care to share with me? Anything I need to work in?”


“Superstitions, Charlie. I am afraid most runners have superstitions,” said Harry, making a series of elaborate gestures with his right hand as he clutched his walker with the left. “Things they feel they must do before a race to be successful. Usually, they are small, insignificant. But they make an athlete feel he has some control over his situation, even when in reality, he does not. Comprende?”

“Sorry, no hablo el espanol,” I said.

“Control,” stressed Harry. “It is all about control. You cannot control the other runners, but you can control what you do before the event. Do you have any?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Gotta Have Heart

Chapter 27, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



I turned the car back on.

“Turn it off,” Harry said.

“No, I don’t want to know.”

“If I tell you, will you promise to ask no more questions?”

“It’s all right. I don’t have to … “

Harry reached over and turned the car off. He sighed.

“No more questions?” Harry asked.

“No more questions,” I said.


“Well ….”

Harry started to reach for the car key.

“OK,” I said. “No more questions.”

Harry sighed again.

“Remember those measurements I took in the beginning, the legs, the calves, so on?”

“Yes, you even measured my ears.”

“For more than 50 years, I have kept records on everyone I have ever coached. I have carefully put together the averages, compiled all the statistics, did bell curves, standard deviations.”

“And …”

“I know how long a particular runner’s hangnail should be, everything.”

“And …”

Harry then took the deepest breath I have ever seen one human being take. I thought he would explode.

“Every one of your measurements are within an eighth of an inch of my profile for an 800-meter runner.”

I sat there with my mouth open, my jaw resting on the steering wheel, for at least 30 seconds. Harry glanced at me and frowned.

“I knew it. I knew it. It went straight to your brain,” said my coach. “YOU cannot handle it, can you?”

No, I couldn’t. He should never have told me. My head buzzed like a mosquito light zapping bugs on a backyard deck. My stomach did cartwheels and fell flat. Harry shook his head.

“In other words, if I could build an 800-meter runner from 50 years of research, my Frankenstein would look like you.”

Speechless, I sat there, still suffering brain malfunction.

“Your legs are the closest of all,” Harry said. “Dead on.”

… if only you had half the brain Frankenstein did …

“Logically, you cannot compete with these 20-somethings,” said Harry. “Hell, you are 48 years old. You’re 85 percent more prone to injuries. Your muscle fibers take at least 50 percent more time to heal. Your reflexes are some 40 percent slower. Your brain is …”

“Stop right there,” I said, regaining partial function. “ So I have no chance. That’s what you’re telling me?”

“Charlie, what I AM trying to tell you is you have the tools.”

“Yeah, but … ”

“I can even hot wire your brain …”

“But … ”

“But I cannot measure your heart.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Guess It Depends

Chapter 27, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang



In less than a week, my agent decided she needed to move back into “our” house to keep up with the growing snowball of offers rolling in.

… sorry, you atheists, this proves there’s a God …

“Charles, the Depends Company called again,” said Melinda.


“Shouldn’t we see how much …”

“No, I am not endorsing diapers.”

“Even if it’s limited to one 30-second commercial? As your agent, I must …”

“Melinda, do you know what my friends would say? Do you know what they would do?”

“But what about the girls’ college funds?” My agent countered. “They’re not exactly running over.”




Instead, we signed with Sunset Prunes and Associated Fruits. Insert your own juvenile joke here if you must. As part of the deal, I got all new, purple and yellow track gear complete with the company’s logo strategically placed on both sides of my shirts and trunks.

As I suspected, no detail was too small for my agent. Melinda was a natural. But we both knew the offers would not last. You get only 15 minutes, right? Each day she spent about an hour on the phone before work, talking with marketing departments, vetting the companies and then negotiating if she wanted to pursue an offer.

When Melinda moved back, she took over the master bedroom. I stayed downstairs. I was ecstatic. My separated wife of nine weeks had come home. Already, our daughters were sleeping in their old bedrooms three nights a week, so the transition proved minimal.

Long after the fact, I discovered it was Dedra who “persuaded” Melinda to go home. My agent was tying up Dedra’s phone line. Also, I heard Dedra was seeing someone new.

At first, Melinda was suspicious of Harry, but he charmed her as he had done Shannon and Jessie. That he took care of all the cooking didn’t hurt either. After Melinda and the girls moved back, come to think of it, I didn’t see Harry much around the house at night. He would fix a quick dinner for us and disappear. Coincidence? I think not.

In any case, I adored having my family back under one roof even if I had to sleep on a moldy, old sleeping bag in the dank basement. It was worth it. My being in the basement was more than punitive or symbolic, too. It was practical. I could come and go without disturbing anyone. And yes, I still got my nightly dose of Russian.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang