Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

April 15, 2002

It was James Thurber who noted in "The Day the Dam Broke" that everybody can run a race when he has to.

"Suddenly, somebody began to run. It may be that he had simply remembered, all of a moment, an engagement to meet his wife. Whatever it was, he ran east, away from the dam. Then somebody else began to run, perhaps it was a newsboy in high spirits.

"Another man, a portly gentleman of affairs, broke into a trot. Inside of 10 minutes everybody on High Street, from the Union Depot to the courthouse, was running with grotesque desperation."

This false alarm in Thurber's short story, that the dam had broken, caused a street full of people, curb to curb, to run like crazy.

The story reminds me of foot races here in Corpus Christi, and, yes, I have participated in some of them. Jeanne is not the only runner in the family, although she is the only one still at it. She runs every day and puts me to shame.

But, I have had my day and share in glory. I would like to tell my story, so as to encourage others out there who consider themselves failures at athletics.

At age 70, I am easily the slowest man on the block and my limp-jog is a pitiful sight, as well as an object of derision to my wife and son.

Yet, I have ribbons fluttering from my car's rearview mirror, and I have acquired, always without ever noticeably competing, some third place trophies, which can pass for first place trophies from only a few feet away.

Here, then, is my advice on how to plod to victory with minimal pain or planning.

First, before the gun goes off, it is important to engage in some self-deprecation, lest you be mistaken for a serious runner by others in your age group.

Discuss aches and pains freely. Practice groaning. It helps, too, to complain about the weather, the organizers of the race, and the lack of available water and restrooms.

That just goes to show that you are lining up excuses for after the race. People who do that could never be a threat, so nobody will be watching you.

Go behind a building if you want to stretch. If someone sees you stretching, you may be suspected of being a serious runner and a competitor in your age group. Don't do any warm up sprints either, and don't even look at the trophies, no matter how much you may want one of those babies.

Toss out disarming one-liners such as "All I hope to do is cross the finish line," "God, I wish I could quit smoking" or "How far is a 10K?"

One last thing before you take off running in the race - wear the t-shirt issued for the race that day. On the trail, this will identify you as a harmless novice and an innocent in competition.

Serious runners are clad in running gear purchased by themselves. A "gimme" t-shirt marks you as someone not to be taken seriously, someone who is hopelessly uncool.

Now the gun goes off. You are running. Pick those you hope to pass from among the target populations in the race according to the categories of "children," "teenagers," "fat people," "the elderly," "the intellectuals," and "the vain."

Little kids are no problem, no matter how fast they start off, no matter how hard they scamper. As soon as you see one, simply mention to them how tired and thirsty you are and how hot it is, and the power of suggestion will have them flopping off the roadway right and left.

Teenagers are more unpredictable and volatile. Say the wrong thing and they are apt to take off on you like a jackrabbit and leave you far behind. What you do is try to get them thinking.

A thinking adolescent is a truly helpless animal. Perhaps you could ask them if they know anything about the drug traffic at their school. Try to seem interested as they pause to reflect, and you whiz by them.

With fat people, a remark that they are looking good and that you yourself used to weigh over 250 pounds might do it. Don't use the line on the ladies that says "For a fat girl, you sure don't sweat much." They have heard that one before, and might think you are joking.

The elderly, that is, those in my age category, are especially touchy.

You won't get around their stubborn selves at all, unless you get them spluttering with rage and too angry even to trot when you try to pass them.

I have found remarks such as "Hi Pops," "Did your doctor say this was okay for you to do?" and "Boy, I hope I look as good as you at your age." All of these friendly remarks may be enough to gain you a step or two. If not, it is all right to trip them if they are in your age category. People my age trip very easily.

Those who wear makeup, perfume and gold chains or other jewelry are sensitive and easily distractable. "Pee-U!" has been effective in the past, as well as "Did you hear K-Mart is closing?"

If you see a man ahead of you wearing a beard and glasses, ask him what he thinks of the Kyoto Accords and you may be able to further distract him if you ask him if the day's weather is a sign of global warming.

Before he can say "greenhouse gas effect," you can be around him.

For those gaining on you, by way of defensive maneuver, spit casually every now and then over your right shoulder, and alternate unpredictably with a left shoulder spit. This helps to keep them behind you.

Apologize profusely for near misses - and then do it again. Hits can be dealt with by the offer of a handkerchief. In a 10K, if there is enough at stake, you might even leave an erstwhile competitor dangling your yucky handkerchief from his fingertips, puzzling over what to do next, stopped dead in the trail.

Spitting along the roadway like this will not make you a gentleman, but it does usually give you a step or two and it is certainly distracting to ladies and gentlemen alike.

When you see the finish line, drop all pretense and kick. Become the horse you really are and smell the oats. Go for it.

You have saved all your life for this thrill. You, who were called a sissy and endured the scorn of coaches and little boys who are now couch potatoes. You who have never hit a home run, nor scored a touchdown.

Now you will know the joy of coming in ahead of health nuts who live on nuts, US Marines, the truly fit who work out every day at "the club," Eagle Scouts, the nice people who never had to cheat to get ahead, those who never smoked nor overdosed on beer nor had to worry about their weight, those who were never called "Fat Boy" as a child and even those beautiful people experiencing a "runner's high."

You who have never dated a cheerleader will now cross the finish line in front of at least one other human being.

Then, depending on the competition in your age group, they may even call out your name. If so, be ready to limp forward in all modesty to accept your trophy, grin with a crooked smile, hold up the trophy and say, "Well, I'll be damned!"

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