It’s been 52 years since I last officially put on a high school track uniform. The uniforms aren’t much different today. The shorts are loose and short. The top is flimsy for the usual cool spring winds.
I loved all the sports I played in high school. I wasn’t particularly successful in any of the sports. I was a starter my senior year on the offensive and defensive line at 155 pounds, which tells you something about the level of talent on that team. I started my senior year in basketball, but at 5-11, I played the post. We just missed being a .500 team.
Despite my lack of personal or team successes, I loved the sports. My freshmen year at Clatonia High School, I ran track, too. The coach wisely put me in the mile run. As a wise old track coach once told me, “There isn’t a race long enough for you.”
I could usually finish in the middle of the pack at major meets and had to work really hard I didn’t get lapped by the eventual winner. My memory from those days are a kid from Sterling won all the mile races and they weren’t close. It was usually a sprint for the tape between him and I, except I was a lap down.
The other memory I have is of this kid from Malcolm that killed everyone in the 440-yard run. He was big, strong & eventually went on to play football at Nebraska for Bob Devaney. His name was Larry Frost, the father of the new Nebraska football coach.
My sophomore year was a nervous time for me. My tiny school of Clatonia consolidated with the huge school of Wilber. I went from nine in my graduating class to 45. That doesn’t seem very big, but to me it was very intimidating.
I thought I would never get a chance in football and basketball, but to my surprise I played a lot of junior varsity and even got a varsity basketball uniform. Why not try track? Here’s where the story turns really dark for me. I will tell you some things I swore no one else would ever know.
Things started remarkably well that spring. I had the fourth best 880-yard time, so I was put on a fairly decent two-mile relay team. It all started to go bad after the first track meet. My relay team did pretty well and all seemed great.
The track was about a mile from the school. We were supposed to jog to the track to warm up, then walk back. The jog to the track wasn’t so bad, but after a tough work-out, it wasn’t a fun walk.
Sometimes one of our buddies would be driving by as we were walking back. If a coach wasn’t looking, we would hitch a ride. It was after a grueling work-out after that first meet when a car stopped to give us a lift. The problem was there were about 10 of us that wanted desperately to get that ride.
Everyone piled into the car, but two of us were left out. We decided to jump on the back. It had a big bumper we could put our feet and had pretty good balance. It would have worked fine except the driver went too fast for someone riding on the back. I was worried about falling but hung on for dear life. The guy on the back with me was named Larry. I started to relax. Then the car hit a dip.
Larry and I went tumbling off the car. I landed on my side and skidded on the pavement. I looked up and saw Larry doing summersaults. When Larry and I finally came to a complete stop, I checked for the damage. My right side from my knee to my chest was skinned up. It burned like crazy, but I determined I would live.
Larry was up and stumbling around. I went to talk to him, but he wasn’t making much sense. Knowing what I know now, I could guess he had a concussion. All I knew he was still breathing and nothing was broken. I was slightly optimistic that Larry and I might get away with this.
It’s hard to keep secrets at a small school and the stories of our accident got back to the coaches by the next practice. Larry and I suffered extra running, but it still seemed we wouldn’t lose our place on the track team.
It was the second day when the infection showed on my scrapes. It was so bad I went to the doctor. He told me I had efintigal which is very contagious. I was told I couldn’t show my face at track for two weeks.
I must admit that wasn’t horrible news. A couple of weeks without those tough track work-outs seemed like a summer vacation. It was about the time the infection went away that I developed a bad case of bronchitis. Another trip to the doctor and another week away from track.
When I finally did come back, I was out of shape and in the coach’s dog house. I was no longer on the two-mile relay team. I was now a miler, only because they didn’t have any longer races. However, the first meet when I came back was the Hebron Twilight Relays.
Karma really caught up to me. Any hopes of being reunited with the other three runners on the two-mile relay team were destroyed when I found out I would run anchor on the relay that had two 220 runners, one 440 runner and one 880 runner. That was me. The other three were either shot putters or disc throwers that never entered anything but a field event. It also was the last race of the day.
That was embarrassing enough but it got worse. I woke up that morning with a really upset stomach. I couldn’t miss another day of track, so off to school I went. It was during the bus ride to Hebron I knew it was getting worse.
Before I changed clothes, I went to the bathroom to discover I had a serious case of diarrhea.
At the Hebron relays, it was only for boys and all the teams dressed on the gym bleachers and used the same bathroom.
It was hard to disguise my problem. It was a bus ride to the track. My first order of business was to find the bathroom. To my horror, it was an outdoor toilet in the trees on the back side of the track. Also, there was no toilet paper.
I had at least four hours before my race. On my first visit to the out-house, I went looking for a toilet paper substitute. I will never forget this as long as I live. All I could find was a thin cardboard container for a six pack of Hamms beer. Remember, “From the land of sky blue waters?”
I rationed the six pack through several trips through the trees. By race time, I couldn’t have imagined having anything left for the diarrhea. Again, I was wrong. My first three runners jogged through their work-out. When I was passed the relay baton, we were already a half a lap behind the next to last place.
I thought I could jog the two laps and avoid disaster, but as I relaxed after the first lap, the diarrhea reappeared, and it wasn’t pretty. As soon as I finished the race, I got on the bus where everyone was waiting. The smell told everyone what had occurred. To make matters worse, I had to undress in front of all the teams and wait in line for a shower.
That was definitely the low point of all my athletic experiences. I should have just turned in my uniform, but I decided to stick it out.
Finally, the district track meet arrived. I was put in the mile run. I felt good about finishing in the middle of the pack. Not a bad finish to a horrible season. Trouble started after the first lap. I noticed one of my shoe laces was untied and flopping around.
I know, I should have just stopped and tied it, but I didn’t want to fall farther behind. After the second lap, the shoe was flapping, and I was losing ground quickly. After lap number three, the shoe flew off. Stupidly, I didn’t stop. I just kept limping along, falling hopelessly in last place.
To add insult to injury, the school had just purchased a new super eight movie projector. They filmed me crossing the finish line last, limping with only one shoe. That did it. I went to the stands, sat alone and cried. I swore I would never spend another day in organized track. That’s one promise I kept.