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1979 Track: End of a Dream

Meet our Track team. I'm the guy in the front row with the stylish suspenders.

My senior year in high school track stands out - for all the wrong reasons. It was the first season where I did not improve from the previous one because I somehow lost that fire that had always pushed to me to meet my goals and go beyond them.

Call it a "burn out" or call it "senioritis." Whatever was going on, I somehow lost that drive that had always kept me going.

The 1979 Track season wasn't all bad. It started out with a couple early wins in the 3000 - although against lesser competition and times that fell a tad short of the previous year. Still, with lingering memories of Cross Country from that fall and interest from a couple of small schools, my dreams of running in college remained intact.

Then came Pleasant Hill.

"Meet My Little Brother."

The wheels to my running future started coming off in Pleasant Hill - a small rural community near Eugene. I'd expected a tough rematch with their top runner who'd I barely edged at State back in November. However, my rival told me that I'd face his freshman brother instead.  Although cordial and encouraging to this kid on the outside, I'd already started a mental draft of my victory speech. As no surprise, that race didn’t go quite according to plan.  This scrawny kid with British flag shorts stayed with me lap after lap until he finally moved ahead with half a mile to go. While in any previous season I would have at least attempted to keep up with him, this time, I basically let him go., cruising in for a less-than-inspired second place.

It was just one bad race, my inner voice offered as a rationale. We all have them. We also move on from them.

Only I didn't. That afternoon set an unfortunate trend for my performances going forward.  Each track meet would start with a decent outcome in the 1500 where I'd pick up a point or two, followed with a decent outcome in the 3000 where I'd pick up another point or two. Not bad. But hardly comparable to the inspired races I’d had the year before in Track or that fall in Cross Country. It seemed that I was just going through the motions. And watching helplessly as my dreams of running in college faded further with each successive race.

I'm defiantly wearing my Styx shirt from a concert that my father did not let me attend.

"Watch out, Rick!"

The most humbling part of that season occurred with a few weeks remaining when we had a meet neighboring Roseburg High School.  Because they were a much larger school district. they usually had their junior varsity athletes face us.  However, since I’d won the 3000-meter race against them the previous year, Roseburg enlisted their top varsity distance runners.  That act should have set my competitive fires ablaze. Instead, I continued in that same lackluster mode.

What I didn’t know was that a small, wiry sophomore on our team along with another Roseburg guy were quickly moving up on me.  This kid actually called out to let me know that I needed to hurry up or they would pass me. A pointless courtesy as pass me they most certainly did.

I should have worn my suspenders as badly as I ran this 1500.

My young teammate's performance that day was no fluke. His talent blossomed at a perfect moment, providing our team the ingredient we'd been missing - particularly with my mediocre efforts. Truth was, slump or not, he exceeded my best times. He was also a damned good guy, fully deserving of all the acclaim he now received.

Still, his success gnawed at me. Not because of how he was doing. But because I failed to even offer the semblance of a challenge. Ideally, we should have pushed one another, just as I'd always done other teammates. Instead, I saw myself as a has-been waiting for the District Meet to bring the inevitable end to the season and my running career.

That meet took place on a hot afternoon in a couple weeks later on a fast all-weather track at a private school in Eugene, I secured sixth in the 1500, a better outcome than I’d expected, and sixth in the 3000.  Respectable. But nowhere near what I’d done the previous year in terms of time and place.

At the end of the meet, ribbons were given to all those who placed, with us standing on podiums.  A cute red head from host school gave each of us a peck on the cheek along with the ribbon.  I made a big deal of it, swooning like an idiot and getting some laughs from spectators.

My final accomplishment as a high school runner - class clown.

(As an aside, that young teammate as well as the Roseburg runner became and remained two of my closest friends over all of these years. And we still give that guy a bad time for warning me that he was about to pass me.)

What can I say? It was 1979 and Animal House was filmed just an hour away from us.

Green Acres?

What followed could best be described as a self-imposed exile. I spent the month of June working for a rancher west of town. No running. Just me riding a tractor, moving irrigation pipes, cleaning out stables and building fences. Still no idea about my future other than I'd go to nearby Umpqua Community College.

My sojourn ended when I landed a better paying job closer to home - like across the street. A few weeks after that, I actually had a call from the UCC Cross Country Coach, asking about running for their team. Not having run in ages, I told him I was burned out from running and hung up.

It was that ill-considered remark that finally reignited a long-dormant spark that again changed my life. But that's a story for the future.

Now that I've spilled the beans on my "Worst. Ever" track season, what about you? Any dreadful experiences on that oval you'd like to share? You can do so in the comments below or on Facebook. Remember, we're all friends here.

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Wow, what a story. I'm interested in hearing more, Rick. Regarding a bad season, probably my junior year of track in college, where I ended my career. I was never good at track and loathed the spring time. In retrospect, I should've just ran cross country and trained the rest of the year on my own.

We had a January workout -- 20 quarters -- just after New Year's. I wasn't in shape to do that. The coach was upset with me and had me quit the workout. It was humiliating for me, but this was how the old school coach worked. I decided days later that I had to make some decisions regarding my academic/professional future, and running track.…

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