Low Hurdles


Spring has sprung in Minnesota. And I wanted to be outside. Looking for union outside, with God. That was how I viewed this human desire to be outside on a great day like today. 73 degrees and a dew point of 35.

Kids spent their youth being outside. Outside, whether they knew it or not, looking for union with God. Just playing outdoors, kids got to seek union all the time with God. And adults forever had that longing to be outside, on a day like today, as they had been as kids. But because of that union that Adam and Eve had ruptured, that search for union would have to most of the time be put off as only a goal until the day when there was enough money gathered to survive without work. If there still was good health left. Most of us were working stiffs indoors until we retired.

I took a 3-mile break to walk to the bank. In my running shoes that I had not used for a while at least to run in. And along the way, I had a flash back to a track season, my freshman year in high school.

I took up running as a freshman in high school. In the 880. The first part of the season was a struggle. I was a straggler, running a half mile in 3 minutes and 30 seconds. My ankles hurt those first few weeks. Within a couple track meets I was running the half mile in 2 minutes and 30 seconds. But I never had that under one-minute 440 speed. And by the next year I had gravitated to longer distances, eventually leaving track for cross country. In a day before cross country was trendy. And I kept running religiously for the next 20 years.

I no longer run. In 1987 I moved to Chicago. With my professional life, I had no time to run, not with any regularity due to the commuting during the week. In 1991, I came back home. And I ran less than 3 more years until an Achilles rupture. And there was a bit of psychological adjustment in giving up running which took at least a year. I heard once it was the pheromones.

Somehow wearing these running shoes today made me recall that long ago track meeting, and what it was like to be in high school. The track team never had many team meetings that freshman year. Not with weight men, field athletes, sprinters and long distance runners. Maybe two. That track coach had attended this school himself and might have once been on this track team. Something on this walk made me think of the track coach who after that season moved on to coach other sports. He had singled me in a team meeting as he spoke of my progress along with the progress of the stars of the team to my great embarrassment

Every year there was a different coach of the high school cross country team. I know there were 4 coaches in 4 years. By my senior year, the team had tied for the conference championship. The new coach set the criteria as to who was going to the state meet which would be based on the last 3 meets. Based upon the results, I had met the criteria to qualify and I would be going to the state meet. But in the last meeting of the year, the coach announced who would be continuing to run in the week leading up to the state meet. And I was not on the list of participants.

I remember returning to my locker after that meeting. And I remember hearing at the adjacent locker the expressed anger of a teammate in the class the year behind me, in my support. Only I could not say much in reply, as my vocal chords were pretty tied up as I contained my emotion.

I went away to college the next year, and never saw those younger members of the cross country team who moved up in the years that followed. Two years ago I ran into a teammate who was 2 years behind me at a party with about 200 people. And I asked how he had performed in the last 2 years of his cross country career. I asked if the coach who won the conference my senior year, who had been put into a position like a foster dad in his coaching role, ever came back. But other than his answer how he had done the last 2 years of running, I don’t recall the response. But he brought up my omission from that state tournament. As adults, we both could see a coach’s concern for developing a team for the next year choosing to develop a sophomore, but at a cost of his own credibility in the years to come after the selection criteria to qualify had been announced.

My disappointment from this incident might have lasted a day or two. Or at least until I saw how cold and wet that week of practice turned out. But something today in these running shoes made me think of the relationships that track coach had my freshman year, the one who had singled me out as a freshman for what had not exactly been sterling performances but for effort and progress over a few weeks of the season, who might have actually celebrated a senior going to the state meet.

I learned a valuable lesson that season, maybe for the first time in my life, from that cross country coach. It was his first year of teaching as he had been fresh out of college, did not know a lot about his team, about running, or about coaching high school kids with perfect trust in adults. Maybe the real lesson was about developing relationships, a depth in relationships in this life which would endure and might nuture me on a day in the future when that world once again did not seem to be real fair.

Yes, it was spring. It was an ideal running day today. An ideal day to be outside looking for union with God. In these running shoes. That time of year when God was trying this creation all over again. Maybe this year the world would do better.

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