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

Tell Me Why

Chapter 25, Blog 4

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“HARRY!” I hollered in my most threatening tone. “I can’t do this. I just can’t. Can’t. Can’t. CAN’T.”

Clutching his walker, Harry rolled up in front of me.

“Like hell you can’t.”

“All this visualization crap. It’s giving me one killer headache. My brain feels deep fried.”

Harry stared me down like I was some bug unworthy of being squashed.

“My little, petulant child,” said the coach. “Why are you so obstinate?”

“Because this is a complete waste of time?”

“You ARE correct,” he said, turned and wheeled away.

…is he leaving …

Horrified, I sprang up and followed.

“Hey! Where ya goin’?”

Harry stopped and pivoted.

“You quit.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, I believe you did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Enough. Just tell me. Explain why it’s so damned important to do all of this visualizing. I-I … ”

Harry threw his walker to one side and wobbled over until we stood toe to toe. Was this it? A showdown?

… look out, the old goat has a mean left hook …

“I do not need this, this insolence,” he said. “In your parlance, don’t you get it?”

“Explain,” I pleaded. “Please.”

“You boomers are babies all right. Explain what?”

“Explain why I need all of this visualization. It’s not making me run any faster.”

Harry smoldered.

“If I were not so old, I swear, I would beat those meddlesome questions out of you, you, you … jackass!”

“Jackass?”

It was the first time any coach called me a “jackass.” Amused, I suppressed a giggle while Harry regained his composure. He sighed.

“I must have prayed the Lord for 20 years,” Harry confessed. “All I wanted was someone, anyone with a smidgen of talent, so I could make a difference one more time.”

Harry locked eyes with me.

“And then He sent me you!”

I felt three inches tall, but it didn’t matter. Soon, I sat in the bleachers while Harry gave his Visualization 101 lecture.

“Simplistically, every human has multiple layers of ability and potential,” said Harry. “Even you.”

“Thanks.”

“It takes all the effort you can muster to access the deeper levels, most notably the fours and fives. The first three are relatively easy. It takes someone special to go deeper.”

“Special? I’m special?”

Harry ignored me.

“Any jamoke can take steroids, but not everyone can develop more brain cells. You project the action in your mind’s eye, imprint it on the brain, do it enough, and the body has a road map.”

“Sounds way too simple, Harry.”

“Believe me, Charlie, you are getting the kindergarten version.”

I made a face, but Harry continued.

“Apply it to anything you like, from high jumping to toilet training,” he said. “The mental side is 15 times more powerful than the physical. Trust me. It can work miracles.”

Miracles? That’s greedy. At the moment, I need just one.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

See What I Mean?

Chapter 25, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

On my way home, I called Harry to ask him to make dinner for three. When I told him that Sheila the sports editor was the third, all he could do was whistle.

… THE RED FLAGS, THEY ARE A-FLYING …

Seated on the patio for after-dinner coffee, I told Sheila about the Super Bowl party/fight, the killer dog trying to catch me, and finally, how I met my coach. She shook her head and beamed. Sheila was easy to talk to, and she was more beautiful than ever.

“So, you really think you can make the Trials?” she asked.

“Ask my coach.”

“Honey,” said Harry, eyeing Sheila. “If Charlie would close his mouth and listen to me just one time, we would be halfway to Beijing.”

“Wow! This is going to be some story,” Sheila said.

“Please don’t write about Melinda moving out,” I begged. “I’m still hoping she’ll come around.”

“No problem,” said Sheila. “But we’ll need some photos. Can we come by practice?”

“We’ll be at the high school tomorrow,” said Harry.

Now it didn’t matter if I were 48, 58 or 108. I was locked in. I HAD to qualify for the Trials or look like the biggest fool in Valparaiso, maybe Indiana. Harry knew it, too. He was a sympathetic teacher and buried me with homework. Harry said he needed to reset my “psychological clock.” Whatever. All it meant to me was more abuse. Three times a day I had to turn toward the Great Northwest and meditate on track and field’s mecca, historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. I Googled it, studied it and began to digest it.

For you racing neophytes, Hayward is the Yankee Stadium of track and field. It has no peer. Hayward is where track legends are born — or die.

The world’s best track fans live in Eugene, a.k.a. Track Town, U.S.A. At Hayward, spectators don’t have to be told. They know when someone is running a world-record pace. In the huge, green grandstands that flank the all-weather, eight-lane oval, fans stomp their feet and clap rhythmically to boost runners when they need that little extra push. The fans hunger for speed and athletic grace. For years, they feasted when the late Steve Prefontaine ran. They know they were spoiled. Still, they hunger for more.

In 2008, Hayward Field would host the Trials, the gateway to the Beijing Olympics. Just getting to run there would be the greatest moment of my life and probably also induce a heart attack. But before Hayward became a reality, I needed a qualifying time of 1:46.

Thus, Harry made me sit on the track every day and visualize, visualize, visualize. So many times I watched myself slosh through the Oregon rain, water leaked from my ears.

… visualize, smisualize …

It was too much. I cracked.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Looks Are Deceiving

Chapter 25, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

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

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“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.

“Continue?”

“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?”

“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

And How Bad Was It?

Chapter 24, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Pops,” I repeated. “Just how old do you think I am?”

He squinted me up and down.

“Maybe 63, 64. I’m not a good judge at that sort of thing.”

“I bet you’re about 12,” I said, spiking with irritation.

Junior didn’t like that. He shook his head and jogged away. This 2007-style trash talking was juvenile. But what did you expect me to do? Act like roadkill? It didn’t matter. I lumbered home a distant fifth in my semifinal heat. Junior took second.

Despite my performance, another kid in a baby blue polo with “UNC” on the breast pocket wanted to harass me. He introduced himself, claiming he was an intern for the Atlanta Constitution. He sought a feature angle at the meet and stuck a micro-cassette recorder under my nose.

“You really 63?” he asked.

“What the hell do you think?” I asked.

“I think I better find another story.”

“Come interview my friend,” I said. “He’s the real athlete. And he’s just 62.”

“First, tell me why you’re out here running against guys half your age.”

“I’m not 63.”

“57?”

“Try 48.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

I told him about my Olympic quest, convinced that would kill the story. He thanked me for my time and went looking for his next ambulance. Done for the day, Ralphie and I were in the mood to drink heavily. So Ralphie drank seven or eight Jack and Cokes, and I downed countless Diet Cokes at a midtown dive. On Sunday, I was a full-time coach as Ralphie took fourth with an Olympic-qualifying toss of 20.3 meters. Just don’t ask me to convert it into feet. I was happy for Ralphie, but I was ready to go home.

About 6:30 a.m., Ralphie dropped me off in my driveway. Limping to the front door, I saw the living-room light still burning. Inside, there was Harry snoozing in my Lay Z Boy. He awoke and started rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Weeelll,” he began with the finality of a hangman. “How bad was it?”

“It was bad,” I said.

“Exactly, how bad was it?”

“I got more than my feelings hurt,” I said.

“And what precisely does that mean?”

“It means my legs are knotted like 3-year-old fishing line.”

“Is that all that happened? That is simply lactic acid, my boy,” Harry said. “That will wear off by the time you reach my age.”

“Great.”

“Did you suffer any mental trauma? Or perhaps, you are more brain dead than I suspected.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Pops Goes The Weasel

Chapter 24, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“I ain’t gonna pee in no damned cup,” Ralphie told the visored bulldog peering through pop-bottle-thick glasses. With a pencil stub, Mr. Bulldog marked an “X” by Ralphie’s number on his clipboard.

“Next,” he growled.

Ralphie glared. I took the rejected cup and headed for the dressing-room urinal. Mr. Bulldog followed and watched – so much for the innocence of track and field in the 21st century. I handed over the full cup, and he circled 613 on his clipboard, wrote the number on the container and packed it in his pee cart.

“Ralphie, as your coach, my advice: Piss in the damned cup,” I said.

This time Ralphie did and had the “X” erased, and his number circled. Now we were both legal. Back at the motel, I passed out. I had nothing left after posting a personal best 1:47.06.

“Whut da hell were ya dreamin’ ’bout?” Ralphie asked the next morning. “Dought ya’d  kick a hole in da wall or somethin’.”

I didn’t remember. But my legs sure did. A pair of tree stumps, they refused to move. Alas, the semifinals beckoned, wooden muscles or not. I stuffed down breakfast, looked at the meet results in the newspaper and geared up again. Ralphie didn’t feel well, and I felt worse. Together, we totaled about a hundred years of muscle fatigue.

With few good options in the strange land that was Atlanta, we drove back to Griffin, threw on our track stuff and lounged in the luscious green infield. I stretched out on my Ninja Turtle beach towel, covered my face and soaked in the healing rays of the blazing Georgian sun. Ralphie nudged me to say he was going to practice. His finals were on Sunday. My next dose of torture was at 4:45 p.m. Although I felt better thanks to solar therapy, I had no illusions of running well. My legs still had knots I doubted most sailors could untie. But with some intense Tai Chi, I loosened them the best I could until a kamikaze runner toppled me.

“Why’d ya stop here?” he asked, sprawled next to me.

I winced as he helped me up. I was too tired to care.

“Take it easy, Dog,” I said, trying to sound younger. “Just getting ready for the 800.”

The white teen stared at me as if I were covered with green polka dots.

“Really? That’s strange,” he said. “Me? I’m running for president.”

We both laughed.

“Well, good luck to you, Dog,” he said and started to walk away. “Jist stay outta my jet stream, Pops.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang