When I graduated from Oberlin, I expected that the sport of track and field would quickly sink into my past, and I would see the lessons that I learned from it writ large in my life. However, I left Oberlin nigh on two years ago and find myself unable to impart any infallible nuggets of wisdom with which to live by. I could also not expect that my legs would be still sharp from a recent round of sprint skill drills, and that I recently spent all day at a track meet for fun! I am as surprised as anyone that running has remained in the forefront and that I can’t teach what I learned as parable. When my mind does wander back to track and field, what I think of are scenes that were driven into my psyche by the endless repetition track and field is famous for. I come upon visions from training and racing that are so vivid, there is no way they can’t be profound building blocks of my psyche. Here are a few:
We always shared the fieldhouse with the tennis squads during the winter, so a floor-to- ceiling curtain was pulled into place to separate us from the courts in the center of the track. With the curtain obscuring most of the fieldhouse from view, the track became a tunnel that my distance mates and I would fly around countless times at every imaginable speed and level of (dis)comfort. Every lap would reveal my teammates in a snapshot of their beloved work and then just as quickly snap the shutter closed. With the beep of a watch, we would accelerate into the first turn seeing sprinters stretching and bounding. Catching a fold of the curtain protruding into the track we would rocket into a backstretch filled with jumpers practicing steps and throwers spinning in the back corner. Slam! Into the second corner we would lean, getting encouragement all the way from the pole-vaulters, and another click of the curtain would rocket into the home stretch, avoiding hopping hurdlers, our eyes on our coach. The line would approach and with a glance down at the watch (36 seconds; too fast! settle down) and we would be leaning into the first curve again, once again getting encouragement from the sprinters.
I did these laps ten at a time with my fellow distance men, and that left me with another ingrained feeling that I am lucky to have: I always had somebody running with me. They were either setting pace, and at times everything in the world would be a blur but the tiniest of hairs on the nape of their neck, a lifeline I could hold as long as I needed to. Other times they were behind me and I couldn’t see them at all. I knew that they were there though, like an extension of myself. These days, when the going gets tough, I can still feel them there, quietly constant.
In April, there were always those two weeks of gorgeous spring days that annually ended the ever-present complaining about Ohio weather (at least until the following November). I spent those cloudless spring afternoons on the track, invoking laps like rosary beads. These cloudless days were brought on by southerly winds that would catch you just as the setting sun hit you full in the face with about 150 meters to go. Right there, crossing into the light and wind with lead in my muscles and joy in my heart will always be the point of complete surrender of my senses to the sport I love. I might not be able to say what track at Oberlin means to me yet, but this what it feels like to me, and I will never forget it.