I Sometimes Wonder
Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
I sometimes wonder whatever happened to Charles, Chip, Joe, Tom, and George. My guess is that you wouldn't know any of these people, but at one time, they were simultaneously my peers and my heroes. These were the people who were in my grade school classes back in New Jersey in the mid 1960's. Or they were on the same little league team I played on. And to me, they were in some ways bigger than life, because they were all amazing athletes. I wanted to be just like them.
They all had the kind of abilities that made them the envy of many. In gym class, for example, when we all got in that dreaded line where we counted off by 4's to pick the teams, everyone would check out where these people were standing. Then, they would scramble for position in the line like a human Three Card Monte, hoping to be on the same team. A guy named Ira was the only person who ever told me that he would focus on me when he got in the line. I was flattered, but Ira wasn't the best volleyball player I ever saw.
Somehow, Charles, Chip, Joe, and the rest of them seemed to excel at every sport they engaged in. They could shoot a basketball with uncanny accuracy, and throw a football farther than anyone else, with a perfect spiral every time. When it came to baseball, they could hit, throw, and field better than anyone else. I never saw any of them play ice hockey, but my hunch is that hockey just may have been the sport to humble them. In the back of my mind, I just knew that they were all headed for the professional sport of their choosing some day, and I could say I used to know them way back when. They were all athletically gifted, and it all seemed to come easy, and naturally.
And one more thing that they could do better than anyone else. They could all run like the wind. It didn't matter whether it was a 100 yard dash, or the mile we had to run for the President's Physical Fitness Test each year. We didn't know about fast twitch/slow twitch muscle fibers back then, so it didn't matter. If you could run, you could run any distance. We were yet to be blinded by the science that dictated what our physical limits should be.
When I was in the 7th grade, I moved to Pennsylvania, and I have never heard another thing about any of them since. In the mid 1970's, when these athletes would have been breaking into the big times, I'd study the team rosters for every professional team in every professional sport. No Chip. No Charles. No Tom. No Ira, either, but that didn't surprise me much. What could have possibly gone wrong? What kept these fine competitors from achieving what I had decided early on they would accomplish? Were they stuck in the minor leagues somewhere, buried in the obscurity of small towns and few fans?
The 70's ended, and a new decade was ushered in. Still, every new season, I studied team rosters, but I never saw a familiar name. Has anybody ever gone to grade school with a future professional athlete? I don't know of anyone who has. By now, all these people who were going to make their mark with their athleticism were in their mid 20's, almost middle age by these highest of standards. If they didn't make it soon, they would not have a chance. In the meantime, I decided to start running. I figured if I couldn't save the world, I might as well at least save myself.
By the mid 80's, I kind of knew that I would never see Charles, George and the rest of them in a box score. 30 is old by elite sports standards. I found myself thinking about them less and less often. Occasionally, however, they would cross my mind, and again, I would wonder exactly what ever happened to them. Whenever I did think about them, it would invariably be during a run. I would think about them, and usually I would smile at the athlete I had become.
On this morning's run, they were all there in my mind again. I wondered again what went wrong, why did none of them ever succeeded with their overwhelming athletic talents. Then, in an instant, it hit me. Here I was, doing what I love doing most, and something I plan to continue doing for many years, wondering what would have happened to them if they had reached the pinnacle of athletic fame.
For one thing, they would be long retired from their passion by now. Their age alone would have disqualified them from professional sports well before their mid 40's. I'm lucky in my chosen sport in that I've already been running for close to 18 years, far longer than all but the most successful professional sports careers. I know people who have been running for twice as long, and don't plan to ever stop.
So who knows what happened to Charles, Chip, Joe, Tom and George? Perhaps some of them might have been dragged down by the hard knocks of life, and their main goal had to become simply one of survival. Or maybe among them, there was a career ending injury before they ever got out of the blocks. It's possible that they never intended to be professional athletes in the first place. That was only my idea for them, and might not have ever been their plan for themselves. They might be doctors, or attorneys, or teachers today. They might have decided at some point to stop playing and grow up.
I just hope that they never stopped running like the wind. Even Ira.
Michael Selman Roads Scholar Atlanta Georgia USAMichael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.