Day #61: Holding Hands
I remember a talk I once had with a mentor of mine. We had just finished a tough “drop off” – the name we gave to surprise races at my camp growing up. At Camp Varsity – an athletic and all-around sports camp in Madison, Virginia – campers and our godlike counselors (to our youthful minds) competed for weeks in a bastion of rugged childhood glory. We played games with such telling names as “Roscoe!,” “Wolf,” “Cowboys & Indians,” “Gold Rush,” “Capture the Flag” and “Rambo.” Eventually, I would become one of the counselors and be in on the creation of these elaborate games. But one of our weekly pastimes was as time-honored as the camp itself, and I suppose that at the very dawn of time – as far as I was concerned – when the first pick-up trucks drove the earliest country gravel roads with their flatbeds wide-open to adventure and the limitless possibilities of victory, “drop-offs” existed.
You never knew you would be the benefactor [or victim, depending on your perspective] of a “drop-off” until all of the pancakes and sausages were mopped up with breakfast syrup and until all of the orange juice was quaffed. As a result, if you were like most of us and ate ravenously at every opportunity, you gulped with adrenaline when you realized that yes, our cabin has a “drop-off” during first period – 15 minutes from now! All you could do was scamper back to the cabin, suit up in your finest, flashiest, most intimidating racing kit (usually this was some favorite, ripped-up, sleeveless tee… and show up.
Rusty – or Coach Gary Wyatt (my high school coach about whom I have written in the past) – would always be in the dinged-up black or red idling pick-up, grinning: “Jump on in, Guys!” They’d laugh and slam the tailgate after us…
…This was well in the past, before most of the nonsense safety measures and rules of today. We had a sweet freedom at Camp Varsity. Some of us sat on the sides of the pick up, or on the wheel wells, just laughing and looking back at the wake of dust that the speeding pick-up ballooned in the air behind. I can still feel the cool air, the knocking back in forth into my best friends as we rounded endless turns, and remember the knot that welled up inside – the butterflies! – when I remembered what we were really about on this trip…
Usually the truck would come to a slow stop – and Rusty would turn the truck around in a 4 or 5-point turn on the narrow gravel road. Then we were told to get out and line it up.
“Line it up!! Runners take your marks. Set. Go!” Sometimes – I embellish- they even fired the starting pistol – gleaned from some 70’s high school track meet, probably… maybe one of those races when Rusty and Gary ran low 9 minute 2-milers at states…
And now it was our turn to complete our task. Run back to camp.
No one ever said it was a race, per se. But you don’t have to distinguish competition from play for kids. We knew the two innately. And so the race was on. I had the problem of reputation. It was known that I was a competitive high school runner – and so the soccer players, the football players and the bastketball guys — they had everything to gain in showing me up, and nothing to lose. The other “runners,” scared like me, all had to prove that they were what they were known to be. And so we ran scared.
On one of these drop-offs on one of these mornings after one of those large pancake extravaganzas, I was feeling great – and cruising well, up front. It was just me and Bobby, that mentor I mentioned before. He seemed to be watching me a bit, out of the corner of his eye, as we finished tough, sided by side. When all was said and done, and when I had successfully proven my identity to the others – and myself – one more time, Bobby sidled up to me. “Hey Pat, excellent run today!” he began. “One thought for you: you looked great out there, but I noticed that your hands we too tight. You ran with fists, like you were fighting… for your identity, to prove something… I don’t know. Just tight. Next time you run, I want you to remember that the relaxing of your whole body starts with your hands. Tight hands equal tight arms equal tight legs. Instead, loosen your grip, rest your thumbs on your pointer fingers gently and pretend to be holding an egg in each hand. Close lightly to hold the eggs, but so as not to break them. In this way, you will run lighter and looser. Now, remember that — and keep running like you did today. That was a race well run!”
Hold on loosely!
image credit: telegraph.co.uk