Use Care, Not Dare

Chapter 29, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

We laughed the rest of the way home. Sure, I was embarrassed. Never did I trip anyone in a race. I felt bad. But Harry told me to forget it. So what if I were disqualified and forever banned in Terre Haute?

Also, I was injured. Harry made me clean my knee wound at the McDonald’s in Kentland. Then, he prescribed a trip to the doctor on Monday to get a tetanus shot. Shifting into teaching mode, my coach said I should learn three things from the mishap:  1. Don’t fall at the start. 2. Don’t lose my cool. 3. Always pass with care.

“Should I write it down for you, Charlie? Perhaps print it on your hand for every race?” he asked. “Maybe a tattoo?”

“No, thanks, Harry, I’ve got it. Would it be easier if I just took the lead and didn’t give it up like Prefontaine used to do?”

“I wish it were that easy,” said Harry.

The injury did allow me to take Monday off to let my knee heal, but I still did visualization on my own. Harry was right. It was a powerful tool. I played the Terre Haute race over and over in my head, and not once did I clip that guy. But I did beat him every time. Back at practice on Tuesday, I wore the blindfold while I did my Tai Chi and jogged three laps with it on. Addictive? No, just superstitious.

I took the blindfold off to see Geri Price staring at me in mock horror.

“What in the name of Nike are you doing, Wells?” She asked and then winked at Harry.

“Training,” I said.

I told her about the Terre Haute debacle, and she thought it was ridiculous.

“I had no idea you were such a dirty runner,” she said. “Did Rockard teach you that?”

“Back in the day, I took out a whole relay team with a single baton,” I said.

“Wells, you’re such a bad liar.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

 

// //

Terre Haute Meltdown

Chapter 29, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

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.

Three.

Two.

One.

“WHOOPS!”

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

Let’s Race

Chapter 29, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

I craved it. I dreamt it. I ached for it.

And now, here it was in my face. R-A-C-E.

After enduring Harry’s endless methodical meanness, I was going to run in a real race. But where was the jubilation? Was I too exhausted to be excited. Was I relieved?

My heart knew what to do. It raced in my chest.

VVVRRROOOMMM!

My lower lip quivered. I sweated like a cheap air conditioner. Fear vise gripped me.

… you’d think you’d be careful what you wished for…

“You will run every weekend, and we’ll see what happens,” said Harry as if he were planning a trip to the grocery. “I have it all mapped out on my calendar. In April, we will take a lap around the state.”

“We will?” I repeated, skipping from one foot to the other. Every leg fiber vibrated with mounting trepidation.

“Yes,” Harry said, sensing my reluctance. “Just part of the process. You will be all right. Competitive work, that is what you need now. A few races. Seasoning. Just a touch. For flavor.”

“What am I? A stew?”

“You do not want to go stale, do you?”

“Stale?” I asked, having pleaded for months to race.

“Yes, stale,” said Harry. “I figure three or four events should be sufficient before we try and qualify you.”

… listen, Coach, he’s already certifiable …

“Great,” I said, meaning anything but.

“You will be fine. I have done this a hundred times,” said Harry. “Any fool who can run blindfolded like you has the right stuff.”

Blindfolded? That was easy. I was outside of my body, looking down.

“Trust me,” said my coach. “You already have more courage than a hundred morons.”

Harry slapped me hard on the back.

“Let’s go eat,” he said.

Whistling something straight out of “Indiana Jones,” Harry rolled toward the car. I stood there stunned silly. Then it hit me like a shot put to the noggin.

“Hey, I still don’t have a pre-race routine …”

But it didn’t matter. I was going racing. The blindfold should have been an eye opener. I didn’t think I was ready, but everybody else already knew. My legs knew it. My heart knew it. Harry knew it.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

More Than Senseless

Chapter 28, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“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.

“DAMN!”

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

Control Issue

Chapter 28, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

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?”

“Huh?”

“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

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

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.

“Promise?”

“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

The Runaround

Chapter 27, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

When the weather blew wintry in late November, I couldn’t run outdoors. So Harry and I took my training madness to Valparaiso University where VU officials were pleased to have a potential Olympian use their indoor facility. But the checker at the front door didn’t get the memo. He still asked to see my student I.D. every morning. That would lead to Harry’s suggesting that the conscientious student instead check out a therapeutic lobotomy.

For all the actual running I did, I could have stayed in the basement. But Harry enjoyed seeing co-eds jog lap after lap while I sat and visualized sprinting the last 200 lactic-acid-soaked meters of a tight 800. At this point, my coach would allow me only a handful of laps at three-quarter speed. Harry claimed anything else would burn too many muscle fibers and make me stale. Funny, I did long for that real, lactic-acid fire.

One day, I had to ask. I knew better, but the issue was a beaver gnawing at my thick, wooden brain. It was time to ask “The Question.”

“Why?”

Harry ignored me and smiled as a slender co-ed in a tight, teal halter top bench pressed iron twice her weight. I twisted in front of Harry and grabbed his walker.

“And what in the world do you want?” he asked with the annoyance of a surgeon in the middle of a heart transplant. I persisted.

“Why, Harry?”

He didn’t blink.

“Why what?”

“Why pick me?”

“You baby boomers are relentless, bordering on obsessive.”

“Just tell me why.”

“I believe you came to me, son.”

“I mean, why did you think I had any chance?”

Harry rolled his eyes, considered his words – and hesitated. He sighed.

“When this is finished, yes, then maybe, we will sit down, have a beer, and I will tell you.” Harry looked me in the eye. “Right now, I doubt you could handle it.”

That made me angry. I spun and sprinted three laps at top speed and walked a couple of cool-down laps. Peering around, I realized Harry had left the building. I toweled off, threw on my sweats and hustled out to the car. Harry sat there. I got in and started to drive home. Harry stared straight ahead.

“Listen, Charlie. You should get yourself someone else.”

“You’re just upset,” I said. “You’ll get over it.”

“Son, you’re 48 years old.”

“I know.”

“You have the spunk of a 20-something.”

“Thanks, that’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me.”

“But you have the maturity of a 9-year-old.”

“Yeah? So tell me something I don’t know.”

“I swear, your whole generation never grew up.”

“OK, I’ll give you that one,” I said. “Maybe we didn’t. Maybe we couldn’t.”

I pulled the car over to the curb and turned off the engine. We sat there for at least five minutes without a word.

“All right,” I said. “Don’t tell me.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Guess It Depends

Chapter 27, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

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.

“No.”

“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.”

“No.”

“Charles.”

“No.”

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

Let’s Make A Deal

Chapter 26, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

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

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

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.”

“Synapses?”

“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