Dear Michael and Caroline,
I’m running around the oval running track near the water tower that looms over the football field at Fair Lawn High School in 1969. I’m 17 years old, bushy-haired and skinny, and competing in my first track meet, running as hard as I know how.
We’re barely a lap into the one-mile race, one-fourth the distance to be covered, and already I’m losing badly, lagging behind the six or seven other runners. I’m pumping my arms and legs with all the force I can muster, gasping, grunting, groaning, yet the farther we run, the farther behind I fall.
I’d joined my high school track team in my junior year, inspired by the American Olympic gold medalist Jim Ryan, and also, to a lesser degree, by Marty Liquori and Kipchoge Keino of Kenya. They were great milers, striding so sleekly along, making the extremely difficult look so easy, and I wanted to run the mile, too.
Maybe running would rescue me from the asthma I had suffered since adolescence.
Maybe it would build my endurance.
Maybe if I ran fast enough, girls would admire me.
Maybe I would like myself better.
So I joined the track team in the fall of 1968, right after the Olympics in Mexico City.
P.S. – See part 2 tomorrow.