This weekend’s Ohio High School championships mark the 25th anniversary of when I went from someone who thought track was nice to someone who was truly obsessed. It’s a long story and needs to be broken up into parts.
Yesterday I posted Part 1. Here is part 2.
It is June, 1986.
It’s the last day of classes in my freshman year of high school. As out of sorts as I felt in junior high, it was just the opposite in high school. I felt right at home from the start.
In my very first high school class I met a kid who liked The Lord of the Rings and Monty Python. We were inseparable for the next four years. On the third day of school, the Quiz Bowl advisor saw us and said “You look like a Squire and you look like a Yeager. Be in my room for practice, we’re on TV next week”. We both made it, and instead of being ridiculed for being know-it-alls like we did in junior high, we got to be on television!
I didn’t know who to go see about cross country my freshman year so I didn’t run. I got involved in the theater instead, playing the lead part of Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I joined a few weird student organizations too—this school was a nerd’s paradise. From time to time throughout that freshman year the guys on the cross country team would bug me about rejoining the team the next year, and I said “yes” just to shut them up. Then, on that last day of school, they made me live up to my word.
When the final bell rang on that last day of school, I was at my locker getting my stuff when Josh and Jason appeared on each side of me and said, “Let’s go, we have a meeting for cross country”. I found myself walking into something I’d never really planned to do. The coach got my name and number and told us when we were going to meet for summer conditioning. Josh was on my case from then until the first day we ran, so I did it.
The high school experience was nothing like my junior high experience. The junior high team was huge, and we only competed against the other public schools in Toledo, so we crushed everyone. Our high school team was smaller and not as good for a number of reasons. One was that our huge junior high fed students to two different high schools, which split up our big junior high teams, and another was that in high school there were many more sports and organizations that claimed potential runners.
But the other thing was that our high school league was an oddity, one that matched up both the public and Catholic schools in Toledo, and in cross country the Catholic schools ruled the roost. I had no anti-Catholic sentiment, but I felt like the Protestant kids who went to those schools paid all that money because they thought they were better than the rest of us, that they looked down their noses at us. That riled me up.
Besides, it didn’t matter who it was, I hated losing. I could take it as an individual—with hundreds of kids in a race, I knew that 99% of us would never win a race—but being on a losing team was simply not acceptable. And I was going to change that, even if I had to do it all by myself.
So as soon as the season was over, I kept hammering away. I doubled my milage, I ran all winter, and I committed to run on the track team. I told the theater advisor that I wasn’t going to be available. Discomfort? Ignore it.
You know what happened. I thought I had a bad case of shin splints. Turns out it was three tibial stress factures. The diagnosis came one week before the outdoor season began, and I was done running until June. I became the stat man for the track team. This wasn’t all bad; in fact it turns out that it was no normal year to be a stat man for the DeVilbiss track team. That’s revealed in Part 3 of how I became a Superfan.