By LMQC Battle of the Bulge blogger, Alan Sivell, St. Ambrose communications professor, RAGBRAI-er, pizza lover and longtime weight watcher.
Recently, I was asked to give a talk about my fitness journey. FINALLY, I thought! I’ve been fantasizing about such a request since I was a naturally ungifted high school athlete.
Back then, I wasn’t the last guy chosen when sides were picked, but I was closer to last than first. I’ve been working to change that status for 50 years.
A major flaw in my game – all games – was that I was slow. A coach once said that while my legs moved fast, my body didn’t.
I got cut from Little League every year I tried out. I got to play on what we called the “farm team” (and this was in a city).
There were no cuts in football at our high school, so everyone was on the team – the 3rd string for me.
Finally, in the spring of my senior year of high school, I MADE the baseball team! The 25th man on a 25-man squad, but hey, I took it.
I worked hard to get that spot. Our baseball coach was old-school in the old-school days. He believed in running. Not in the Bill Rogers/Joan Benoit kind of running, but in the gray sweat suit, Chuck Taylors, run-till-you-drop kind of running.
Beginning in February every year, all the baseball players had to run around the 1.1-mile city block that contained our school, the tennis courts, the soccer field and the track, 5 times after school.
I set out on that first day at the age of 15 facing a distance I’d never faced before. This was 1967, mind you, when nobody ran that kind of distance. It was hard to do a single lap without stopping at first. If I hadn’t loved baseball, I would have quit.
Soon, though, I noticed that the star players barely looked winded at the end of this impossible journey, while the rest of us “third stringers” looked like road kill. The “stars” had a secret.
It lay in the basement of the administration building, which was also on this block and not visible to the coach.
As it turned out, the stars were sneaking into the building to lounge with a cold drink from the pop machine. They watched us knock ourselves out running. When we were on our last lap, they joined us, cool and collected. We ran 5 laps to their 1. No wonder they looked good.
The coach never noticed that his stars were missing as he tailed us from his car, bellowing at us to go faster. We didn’t rat his pets out, but my fitness bitterness began brewing.
I vowed then, as I dragged myself around ALL 5 laps – never cutting a single corner – that I would be in better shape than they would be someday. As I went by Coach’s favorites, peering out of the Administration building, I dreamed of being the star … someday.
I knew it might take some time. It might take 10 or 20 years, but I thought my dedication would eventually get me there. I followed Coach’s advice, working hard 6 days and breaking a light sweat on Sundays.
Well, I never did get to be a star, even if I feel like I’m in better shape, in some ways, than I was as a kid. And if I wanted to be a jerk, I’d note that – while I can tie my own shoes – some of yesterday’s stars might be struggling just a little bit.
This may be a cliché, but life really is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. And I’ve got a good pace going.
If anybody wants to hear more about it, I’m ready to share!