Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Australia - Break a Leg!

For context, this article was originally published at ACALA Sports Training Systems. It is in the form of an open letter to teammates that were with me at the World Masters Games in Sydney, and a report to teammates that were not with us.


I usually keep a journal on track meet journeys. It helps me remember the sequence of time and specific events during a trip. Often I will jot down an idea or two about topics I want to write about later. Before we left home, I stuck a spiral notebook into my carry-on bag as has long been my custom.

When I got home and began unpacking, I found the notebook, undisturbed, still occupying its original position. I had thought of the notebook on several occasions. Old habits are difficult to suppress, but I never managed to remove the book or write a single thought on its pages. Every page was pristine, the pen clipped tightly to the cover. If a pen could own feelings, it would have been suffering a case of neglect. It might have even glared at me for a few seconds since I had no ready explanation to offer.

Mark Hastings kept a journal. I watched him do it. Mark is always thorough in everything, so I know I can rely on his notes if I need them.

Without a note of any kind I sat down to write a blow by blow tale of the things our Houston Elite group encountered, and how we managed to fake, wheedle or cajole our way around every Australian obstacle placed in our way. I sat for quite a while without entering a single word through the keyboard. I was trying to reassemble a week’s worth of racing, touring and laughing without a written clue. Finally, with the monitor as blank as my notebook, I got up and headed for a meeting with one of my favorite clients. The client didn’t want to talk about architecture and the task he had for me. He wanted to hear all about Australia. Somewhere along the way, he asked me to rate my experiences there. He wanted to know what single event, site, or occurrence I would rank number one. I didn’t know the answer to the question, so I just looked past his smiling face and focused on a wind blown tree that stood outside his window. I took my time. I mentally cycled through the events and the days. He grew frustrated with my processing tardiness and went on to the next question. I left the meeting and began my drive home. My clients question hitched a ride with me. Like a summer mosquito buzzing my head, it wouldn’t leave me alone. Rethinking the week, memories worked their way in, soon to be crowded out by yet another memory, which was in turn replaced by still another memory of smiling faces and the surround of friends.

In that moment, as I drove, I knew the answer to my client’s question. There were too many memories to be ranked. There were too many warm embraces, both physical and mental. Too much laughter and fun to catalog in a tidy Letterman style top ten.

However, I fully realized the fountainhead for the cascade of warm memories. I comprehended the native source of my many fine memories. I had stumbled upon the origin, the wellspring.

The source of all the memories was the result of being surrounded by my friends. We were a tribe of several, and a warm unified heart of one. This was the answer to the previously unanswered question. I wanted to return and tell my client that I had arrived at an answer, and that I didn’t even cheat by looking in the back of the back. I knew the answer. Without my friends, without my tribe, without our unified heart, the source of all the memories and fun would not exist.

After I knew the answer I took the time to begin reviewing the video that Kathleen took of everyone during the competition. Captured on film is an extraordinary 4x100 relay run by a 100 percent Houston Elite team. The film documents a win for Houston Elite at a World Games level. The grand thing about it is we did it against a hand picked team of multi-national athletes that were many years younger than ourselves. The key to the win, no surprise, was the experienced and focused dash down the last straightaway by Coach Bill. Had that been all, it would have been enough to thrill. But wait, as they say on late night TV commercials, there’s more. Coach Bill performed the feat with a stress fracture that literally reduced him to writhing in pain at the end of the race, while he lay horizontal on the track attended by medical personnel. He was horizontal, but we were all victorious.

Why would a man with a ton of world competition gold medals do such a thing? He did it because he wanted to make sure his teammates, his friends, had a medal to take home. I don’t want to discount the remarkable valor of Bill’s sacrifice in any way, but I dare say any of us would do the same for the other. That’s the reason my memories are so warm and plentiful. I have friends that shared it with me, and cared about me all along the way.

There are times when our experiences in life unfold in a way that we can never fold them back. When a friend unfolds his friendship like Bill did that day, and you realize it is so meaningful it can never be folded back again, it can only make us smile, and be entirely aware why our memories are what they are.

I know what’s number one from my Australian trip. It’s all my friends. I promise I will run with a broken leg for you if I need to. Just like Coach Bill.

Please remember to pick me up and dust me off when it’s over. We have more memories to make.

To view the race go to: 4 x 100 Relay

Mark Hastings, Bill Collins, Rick Riddle, Charles Allie