Dead In The Water

Chapter 32, Blog 5

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


“I will write it down for you.” Harry started scratching the prescription on a notepad. I didn’t know whether I should tell him I swam like a fat rock skipping on water. My head began to fill with OCD dread.

… speak up now OR you’ll be sorry …

“Harry, do I have to swim?”

My coach stared blankly at me.

“Can you walk through the pool, perhaps in the shallow end?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Go do it. It is vital to get some low-impact movement in those legs.”

“All right.” I felt relieved. “I can do that.”

“In the meantime, I will make some calls and see what else we can try. We will start with the Y now that I have preconditioned you,” he said.

“OK, but we need to get that paperwork for the Trials in the mail soon.”

“Let me worry about that,” said Harry.

“And let’s not put my age on it,” I said.

“I think it does ask for your birth date.”

“Do we have to fill that in?”

“We shall see, Princess. What we need now is for you to process the soreness and quickly. You can do it.”

“I-I … “

“Listen. You are too far down the road to let a pair of recalcitrant legs stop you,” said Harry. “For once in your life, believe in yourself.”

“Harry, I DO believe.”

… liar  …

“That is a little better. Now, skedaddle.”

Three days later, I did believe, almost. Targeted visualization plus alternating hot and cold therapy on my stubborn legs – and a tub of Advil – did away with about 75 percent of the lingering pain. My coach was a genius, and he told me so.

Maybe he was right.

Finally, I tackled the mountain of paperwork every Olympic Games hopeful has to climb to apply for an invite to the Trials. Not only did you have to qualify, you had to prove you could also read, write and follow bewildering directions. We downloaded and printed the forms from the U.S. Track and Field website, and Harry helped me fill them out, birth date and all. Three hours later, I had them stuffed in a fat envelope and in the mail.

I was almost there.

A week later, I received a one-page letter from the U.S. Olympic Committee. After reviewing my application, the committee had decided to invoke “Rule No. 149.”

I was denied an Olympic Trials invitation.

Melinda had more bad news.

“Charles, sit down.”

“Now what?”

“Ralph’s had an accident.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Now He’s Cookin’

Chapter 32, Blog 4

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


Per Harry’s instructions, I called Nicky, who worked at the Valparaiso YMCA. Could I use the whirlpool this afternoon, maybe sleep in it for a couple of days?

No problem, said Nicky, provided I would autograph a “few” items for the Y’s annual fundraising auction. Meanwhile, Harry tugged the overstuffed easy chair into the middle of the living room and ordered me to sit. Those witch doctor eyes of his began to whirl. He always got that look whenever he tried a new casserole with a complicated recipe.

“Concentrate,” he said in a low monotone. “Close your eyes and summon forth every fiber of your well-being.”

I smelled orangey incense wafting through the air.

“What IS that stench?”

“SILENCE!” Harry commanded. “Close your eyes!”

Without his walker, Harry ambled around my chair, once, twice, three times.

“Meditate,” he said. “Meditate as if your lily-white life depended upon it. And concentrate. Concentrate as if it were your last breath.”

A smile slipped out – as if I could do this with a straight face.

“I saw that,” said Harry. “Forget it. Forget it.”

“No, no, please,” I begged. “I’ll try harder. Please, go on.”

“You think THIS is funny?”

“No, of course not.”

“I do not have to put up with any of this shit,” said my coach. “I can walk out that door right now and never look back.”

A cold shudder curled down my spine. Studying Harry these past months, I knew he was serious. It was no bluff. Sucking a deep breath, I resolved to try my best. I focused on the dull pain in my legs. That helped.

“All right, I’m ready.”

“Then close your eyes!” he said.

“They’re closed.”

“Target. Target every cell in that miserable wreck of a Baby Boomer body. Will it. WILL every cell to heal.”

“You’re scaring me …”

“CHANT!” Harry shouted. “HEAL!”

“Heal. Heal. Heeeaaalll …”

I chanted as long as I could, possibly five minutes.

“Heal. Heal. …”

“Enough!” said coach. “Take your bony ass down to that Y, swim three laps in the pool, then sit in the whirlpool for 10 minutes. Then swim three more laps, sit in the whirlpool for 10 more minutes, and then swim three more laps. Then hurry back here, and we’ll pack you in ice.”



… is he a whack job or what …

“OK,” I said.

“And Charlie, do it exactly as I say or it won’t have the desired effect. Understand?”


… talk about half-baked …

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Deal’s A Deal

Chapter 32, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


I couldn’t blame the guy. No 20-something wants to admit a man old enough to be his dad had kicked his ass in a foot race. I won’t lie. I was exhilarated I beat him and those other babies. It made me feel powerful and vibrant and young  …

And leave it to Melinda, my wife, to keep me grounded.

“Charles, are you going to decide about Depends or not?”

“I’m not wearing diapers today, tomorrow …”

“We’ll get $10,000 if you wear them for a 30-second commercial. Thirty stupid seconds. You know how long it takes me to make $10,000?”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Almost four months, Charles,” my agent said. “Tell me you cannot wear them for 30 seconds.”


Powerful or not, I gave in. If they want to pay me $10,000 to stand naked on my head in the driveway, I guess I would do that, too, although I could already hear Ralphie.

“Hey, moron, jist give me da ol’ cloth ones any day.”

The real deal was my legs still hurt on Day 11 after Des Moines. They refused to loosen. My angst needle climbed, but I didn’t dare tell anyone. Of course, Harry wasn’t just anyone.

“What’s wrong, Princess?” asked my coach. “You’re not getting enough Chi, are you?”

“Nuthin’.” I said, toweling off the sweat.

“Well, you are either hiding something or you are pregnant,” said my coach. “Which is it? Go ahead. At this point, we have no secrets.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Good enough,” said Harry. “Tell me when you are ready.”

He pivoted on his walker and started to roll away.

“However,” he added. “Do not wait until it is too late.”


I hobbled after him like a three-legged giraffe. Harry turned and saw. I’ll never forget the look on his face.

“Why in the name of Moses did you not tell me, Son?”

“Pride,” I answered. “I may be old, but I still have my pride. You know that.”


“Really, Harry, I’m not that old, am I?”

“Sounds more like vanity to me. Simply amazing. An athlete gets a modicum of success, and it goes straight to his brain,” my coach said. “What we need here is a teachable moment. Do you think we have a teachable moment here?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I will accept that as a ‘no.’”

I admitted my legs ached ever since Iowa. For all his years of training, Harry was baffled. Eleven days after a race was plenty for a normal recovery. What to do? His healing tricks usually worked on someone half my age. Would they work on the abused legs of a 49-year-old?

Harry said we did not have a minute to lose.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

And It Costs What?

Chapter 32, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


Could it be? Fifteen minutes of fame was too much. Liberties I took for granted such as a quiet dinner without interruption vanished. Not that I wanted to eat. After Iowa, Harry took my diet hostage and fed me only eggs, sweet potatoes and almonds. And hot water. Lots of hot water and soup. My coach had read it on a blog. The theory was you should drink nothing but hot and warm liquids. Cold drinks froze your organs, making your body work overtime to heat them. The older you were, the more important it was to keep your organs warm.

When I heard the theory, I thought of only one thing – warm beer?


It was the interviews, however, that really made me want to hurl. They always boiled down to one basic question.

“So, how’s it feel to be 49 and still compete with youngsters?”

In other words, “Hey old man, during a race, what keeps you from stroking out?”

Worse, following my appearance as the June cover boy for AARP, a biology researcher from Purdue called to ask me to donate my body, so scientists could study it. Harry was quick to note the irony.

“As usual, a Baby Boomer is worth more dead than alive,” he said.

Yet, Melinda piled on the interview appointments. She also scheduled for Harry.

“Be a good boy and drive me into the city, Princess,” my coach said. “‘Chicago Tonight’ desires a shovelful of my insight.”

I had to give my coach credit . Without Tai Chi and his other offbeat notions, I never would have made it this far. Later, Melinda wanted to start our own Tai Chi school in Valparaiso.

… if only YOU would have listened …

While AARP tolerated my 15 minutes, much of the national press beat me like a fat piñata. Sports Illustrated had the most fun, whacking my quotes so much that I sounded like a conceited simpleton.  SI’s “What’s-His-Name” didn’t think I had any chance to earn a Beijing trip. I cut out his article and taped it on the refrigerator. Every morning before practice, I tapped it three times with my forehead for extra motivation.

But motivation I had. Up to their old tricks, my 49-year-old legs needed something else. A week after Des Moines, they still ached. Along with the pain, doubt lingered: Would I be ready for Eugene? My Drake Relays time had qualified me for the Trials. There was no guarantee, though, I could reproduce it in Oregon. Even if I could, would it be good enough?

A few of my track peers believed my Iowa race was a fluke. The guy in the chartreuse tracksuit told SI he was certain a microburst had carried me the last 30 meters.

“With that pace we were on, no one would have a kick left like he did,” he said in print. “Especially someone that bleeping old.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Every Family Has One

Chapter 32, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


When my thought process re-engaged, I tried to shake the hand of the guy who beat me. You know, sportsmanship – that horseshit. He would have none of it.

“Get away from me, you old fart.”


Harry led me off the track.

“Don’t mind him. Just another asshole. Ten more meters and you beat him, too.” said Harry. “He knows it.”

My coach never cussed without a good reason.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing. Come, walk it off. You have what you came for,” he said. “Damn, that was fast.”

My over-the-top effort taxed every atom I owned. Now, I paid for it.

Lightheaded, I felt my noggin soar higher than the Goodyear blimp. The rest of my body trembled with exhausted blood veins still working off a record oxygen debt. My senses flickered in and out. My muscles sputtered. I had trouble lifting my arms.

Finally, my brain rebooted.

“The Mohawk! That was brilliant!” I exclaimed. “Where did you find that nut?”

“Just someone who needed $20,” said Harry. “Doggone, right?”

“Damn right! I needed that.”

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” said coach.

When we got home from Iowa, Melinda made me go to the Porter County Courthouse and pay the $3 to get a copy of my birth certificate. I needed it for our trip to New York City.

“Yes,” I told Regis Philbin during my three-and-a-half, frightening minutes on the “Regis and Kelly” show. “Yes, I am 49 years old. See.” I held up my birth certificate for the camera. “Born Feb. 23, 1959.”

I offered the document to Regis as he fumbled for his reading glasses. The audience giggled. Regis shrugged.

“You don’t look a day over 50,” said Regis, and the audience let loose.

Melinda and the girls took turns telling Kelly how proud they were of me. But poor Regis did look much older in person, Melinda noted.

Back in Valparaiso, my methodical agent plowed through a new wave of offers, mostly off-the-wall and screwball. Friends and relatives also were calling, especially Uncle Fred.

Who? Uncle Fred?

Who in the hell was Uncle Fred?  On the phone, he told Melinda he was dad’s half-brother.

“Funny, mom never mentioned any Uncle Fred that I remember,” I said.

I tossed his phone number in the trash.

“We ARE changing our number ASAP,” I said.

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

The Staredown

Chapter 31, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


Track is a funny sport. There’s no ball or bat or soccer goal. Just you, the track and a bunch of cats running around in their boxer briefs. Yes, I just figured that out. Pathetic, no? Can you tell I had way too much time to think?

Saturday dragged on. Would I get to compete? Or would I sit and watch my dream run by? The first heat for the men’s 800 had a 2 p.m. start, so I got to the track by 11:30 a.m. While I sat and pondered, I saw my 49 years whiz by in my mind’s eye. After I edited out the bad stuff, the story lasted about 3 minutes. I waited and stretched and waited and worried and waited and …

Got the call at 1:45. Some California dude thought 67 degrees was too cold to run in.

“Hey, Princess,” cooed Harry. “Get ready. The show is on.”

There was no drama, no fuss, as if he were telling me the lunchtime special. Over his career, I bet Harry said “Get ready” a thousand times. I was just 1,001. As I rotated my lower back in the suddenly glorious, Iowa sunshine, his words echoed through my head.

… get ready … get ready … get ready…

Like a bad pop song, there was no stopping it. When I rolled my pre-race visualization tape, it was the soundtrack.

… get ready … get ready … get …

Enough already! Strolling the front stretch, I tried to distract myself by peering into the stands. Never had I run before so many. I felt honored – and scared – at the same time. My nerves tingled. I was sure I was blinking on and off like a loose bulb in a ceiling fan. Then, it occurred to me the fans had no clue whom I was. Or cared.

… they’ll know when it’s over …

A positive thought? Are you kidding? I hadn’t had one since 1979. Maybe all of that training and paining had been worth it. I searched the stands for Melinda and the girls. My wife had never seen me run. My daughters had never seen me run. I wondered if they were nervous. Knowing Melinda, she was bored.

“Last call for the first heat of the men’s 800 meters.”


I jogged back toward the starting line. Next time by, I’ll be doing more than 200 miles an hour. With my fear-induced adrenaline gushing, I felt I could. At the line, the other runners were ballerinas, prancing up and down, spandexed in mild-altering colors, their one-piece, skin-tight tracksuits sported miniature billboards full of corporate sponsors. Inspecting a chartreuse tracksuit to my left, I thought I detected a makeup stain.

… these guys – they’re just children …

The runner on my right stared hard at me.

… he thinks you’re someone’s lost grandpa …


… did you say what I thought you said …

As if he didn’t hear me, Mr. Stare bent over and touched his palms on the track for a last-minute stretch. But when he straightened, he stared again. The silliest little grin played on his lips.

… yup, he heard you …

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Run, Chuck, Run

Chapter 30, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

At first, my coach appeared nonplussed, then quickly turned displeased.

“All right, Charlie,” said Harry. “Exactly, what happened?”

“No, no, they want me to run now.”

“Yes, I heard that part. Tell me why.”

Struggling against a deepening oxygen debt, I gulped air.

“Calm yourself, Charlie,” said Harry. “Start over.”

“I was asking … when I was supposed to run tomorrow … you know … so they looked it up … and said I’m not on that list.”

One of Harry’s friends, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, held up his hand to interject.

“There’s an 800 Master’s Race starting in, maybe, 20 minutes.” He checked his watch. “Actually, 15.”

“That’s it,” I said. “That’s the damned screw-up.”

“And?” Harry asked.

“They have me in the Master’s Race. NOW!”

“OK, take it easy, Son,” said Harry. “We will see …”

“You better have him run it, Harry,” said coach’s other pal, this one wearing a Cubs hat. “You know, it’ll take days to straighten this out.”

Harry looked at him and nodded. He looked at me.

“Can you be ready, Charlie?”

“I-I-I think so,” I said. “Guess I better, huh?”

“It appears so,” Harry said. “In the meantime, I will try and untangle this foolishness.”

Harry and his friends scooted away. Hurrying out into the parking lot, I got my bag and headed in to change. I wasn’t about to run in my sweats. With pre-race adrenaline surging, I got back out to the track, visualized, stretched and …

“Last call for the Master’s 800.”

… this sure ain’t no heaven  …

My heart wanted to jump out of my mouth as I trotted over to the starting line. My name was penciled in for lane No. 4. In a bluish blur, I took my mark and …


A minute and 49 seconds later, I broke the tape. Paying the high adrenaline cost, I was spent. Harry still made me stand and walk to cool down. When I could talk, all I had were questions. But my coach had no answers.

“What in the name of Iowa happened?”

“DO NOT know,” said Harry. “Some bureaucratic bullshit. You emailed your entry, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“So some dumb ass got his electrons crossed,” Harry said.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Say When

Chapter 30, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

Ever the master chef, my coach loved to turn up the heat. Some of his best recipes required a pressure cooker. Yet, out of the hundred worries cooking in my brain, only one had caught fire: Did I kill myself for more than a year for only a weekend in Iowa?

Worse, Ralphie didn’t need to go to Des Moines nor did he want to. His invite to the Olympic Trials was already in the mail. No question, my best friend also was still angry about the inordinate attention I was getting from The Times a.k.a. Sheila and the rest of her sports department. So that meant …

“No. No. No. You are OUT of your mind,” insisted Melinda. “I don’t have time to go to Iowa.”

“But …”

“What do you think this is, Charles? You think I can take off whenever I feel like it.”

“It’s only three days,” I said. “Harry doesn’t want me to drive. And he sure can’t.”

“Why put me in this spot?” she asked, wringing her hands. “I don’t need this.”

“Lindy, you’re my agent for Pete’s sake. You’re supposed to look out for me,” I said as I stroked her arm. Melinda glared at me. She didn’t appreciate my calling her “Lindy.” She never did. I should have known better.

“In that case,” Melinda said, wresting her arm away. “I’ll get you a ticket. A bus ticket.”

“Gee, thanks. How about a Depends commercial, too, while you’re at it.”

“You sign with Depends, and I will carry you there.”

“The hell you will. I’ll walk to Des Moines before I wear diapers.”

Melinda called and ordered two roundtrip Greyhound tickets to downtown Des Moines. When she drove us to the old, paint-peeling bus depot on Thursday, though, Melinda had a change of heart. She couldn’t do it – to Harry. Whatever. So on Friday at sunrise, Melinda called off sick, the girls played hooky, and we piled into our gun-metal-blue Jeep Cherokee. Pinched in the back seat between Jessie and Shannon, I wondered what magic my Iowa track of dreams had for me.

Six hours later, we splurged to get a room at a new Hampton Inn no less than 15 miles from Drake Stadium. It was the least I could do for our reluctant chauffeur. After we checked in, Melinda and the girls went for a swim while Harry and I drove over to take a look at the stadium. Two years earlier, the Drake facility had undergone an expensive makeover, resulting in a track and field beauty. Topped with a new Mondo surface, the reconfigured track exceeded most standards, boasting 48-inch-wide lanes. It was big, blue bursting with speed.

The decathlon competition had wrapped up, and the stands were about three-quarters full. With my old, stained sweats on, I jogged a Sunday-drive pair of laps around the infield to get the feel of the place. While I circled, Harry bumped into some old buddies and chatted. My OCD kicked in, and I needed to confirm my race time on Saturday, so I hunted for someone official to ask. Lucky, I did.

“Harry!” I interrupted. “I’m supposed to run. NOW!”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

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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

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