|3/18/2014 12:57:00 PM|
By Charlie KanzigIn high school, the winter season for me meant running after school or in the early morning alone, often in darkness. An offer from the wrestling coach to join the team for some road work sounded like the perfect way to break up the loneliness, so I found myself hopping in the mini-bus with a bunch of guys who had no love for running.
The situation was one of those classic high school scenes in which a bunch of young men try to hide their dread about what is being asked of them. But as the bus moved further and further from town, all the way to the electric substation on Old Mehama Road eight miles out of Stayton, the air in the bus smelled of nervousness, with a whiff of despair.
As the only true runner in the group, I couldn't wait to get started and figured I would end up running alone again after all. One of my senior classmates, Steve, captained the wrestling team and was well known as a very good all-around athlete with a tenacity and competitiveness that applied to any contest, whether it was a football game or a round of poker. We had shared track season together the previous two years, and I knew he scored big points for us every meet as a sprinter.
Still, I thought the run back to school could be a moderate-distance day for me with no pressure to push hard.
I had underestimated the one wrestler who could give me a run for my money.
We started off easy enough. The weather was mild and Steve fell into pace next to me. I knew the course well, having run or biked every country road within 20 miles of my home, and welcomed the level surface that lay before us for the majority of the way.
At this time in my life very few boys my age in the region could run farther or faster than me. I had run my first marathon four months earlier and commonly ran 10 or more miles in training, so it surprised me that four miles into our run, Steve stuck with me, showing no real signs of discomfort. We had quickly separated from all of the other wrestlers, most of whom I was sure had already taken up walking for long stretches. They would be picked up one by one by the merciful coach well before ever reaching the high school.
But not Steve. He stayed right beside me. My memory tells me we talked a bit along the way, but by the time we crossed Highway 22 and headed into the final mile-and-a-half, I picked up the pace and the conversation ended.
I am sure any competitive person can relate to what was happening. Here were two teenage boys six miles into an eight-mile run that had suddenly become a contest. I truly thought that I could break away and leave Steve any time, but we remained locked in that beautiful synchronicity that runners share when their bodies and minds meld as they fly to the common goal of the finish line.
Finally, as we pushed up the hill toward Third Street at the four-way stop at Shaff Road, I had to define the finish line.
"Let's go to the gate at the tennis court by cutting through the field at Regis."
Anyone watching would have seen it as the race it had turned into. We ran a diagonal through a grass field, skirted the back side of Regis High School, and headed for the fence by the tennis court that separated Regis from Stayton High.
How things ended is not entirely clear, and as there were no known witnesses, the result remains a mystery.
Steve and I have been able to reconnect in recent years. I saw him in Sisters for the first time at a middle school cross-country meet hosted by Sisters in 2002 or 2003 and asked what he was doing there. He pointed across the field and said, "That's my daughter Michele in second place."
She was running for Obsidian and looked fluid and natural. Steve filled me in that he, like I, had five children (two more arrived in later years). He had opened an insurance company in Bend and lived in Redmond. I told him that he should move to Sisters for the small school environment, and that his kids would love it.
To my surprise, about two years later he did just that. While Michele didn't end up continuing her running career, her brother Michael and sisters Marcy and Macadia have been Outlaws runners, whom I have had the pleasure of coaching.
In the fall of 2012, with Macadia on the Outlaws cross-country team, I asked Steve if he wanted to do a little speed coaching with the team as we prepared for district. He agreed, and gave a talk beforehand about resilience. Somewhere along the way he alluded to "The Race" he and I had back in our own high school days.
In his telling of the tale, he got to the gate just ahead of me. My version says I arrived first because I am certain I would remember getting beaten by a sprinter/wrestler.
And there lies the best part of these old stories. It doesn't really matter. We had both taken up an unspoken challenge and created a shared memory. One of the reasons we run is to find different types of victories, whether it is against another runner, up over a steep hill, or just getting out the door.
Even if I did get to the gate first, the esteem I gained for my tough, resilient, competitive friend Steve Calavan remains.
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