Following My Bliss
In the beginning there was baseball, but the interest was waning. Pre-occupied with survival in that freshman year I wondered what had happened to the relative simplicity of grammar school. In gym class, usually having neglected to bring shorts and a t shirt, I would participate in that days activities in my chinos and wing tipped shoes. On the baseball diamond I was a master at walking whenever I came to bat. I would tell the catcher as I headed too first “I will be taking second, first pitch, try and stop me.”
No one ever could even in my wing tipped shoes. As a result my gym teacher suggested that I go out for the cross country and track teams. I did. My first workout was a bunch of 220’s, all out. That was on a Thursday. On Friday we ran two miles. The coach took me aside afterwards and asked if I thought I was ready to compete in the teams cross country race the next day. Ready or not, it would be the frosh/soph division of the Catholic Memorial Invitational at famed Franklin Park in Boston. I ran OK. I beat a couple of people. What I enjoyed most was the camaraderie, the bus ride, the adventure.
While playing pick up baseball games on the North Common, Acre, Lowell we would watch members of the great Lowell High School wrestling team running their laps round the perimeter of the common. On occasion I would join them or the boxers who trained at the local gym near my house, brothers in sweat.
Running took a hold. With money I earned working the bingo games at my former grade school, I bought subscriptions to Track & Field News and purchased many of the books they advertised.The simply written biographies of Jim Ryun, Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Ron Clarke and others and the mind opening “Run To The Top” of Arthur Lydiard. These books kindled the fire. I read them over and over.
As a freshman and sophomore I did everything and anything that the coaches told me to do. As I became more learned I added a few things and suggested others to the coaches. One memorable moment came in my sophomore year when I ran a mile race in an indoor dual meet against the State Champion, Jim Kent from Lawrence High School. (I believe he was state champ. I would have to look it up to be absolutely sure.) Jim was due to run the following evening in a big invitational mile race featuring some of the countries best high school milers. He had run a 4:11.
The assistant coach for our team, Dave Flanagan (head coach John Lang) insisted that I push the pace because Jim would like to run as easily as possible with a big race the next day. I certainly was not considered a threat. The coach thought I might upset him. Jim led the first 440 in 72 seconds. My coaches were screaming for me to go by him. I sprinted past him and never looked back though I could feel his presence right on my heals.
With two laps to go on the eleven plus laps to the mile track, Jim went by and opened a small gap. I hung on gamely and as we entered the last lap, coming off of the sharp turn of the nearly square track, into the straight I attempted to pass. People were screaming sensing a possible upset. Jim ran me wide and nearly into the wall of the cage as many people howled in protest.
I ran a PR. Jim jogged with me afterwards and shook my hand and patted me on the head.
I caught fire that day.