Random item from my box of running memorabilia.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"What Ever Became Of...?" -- A Few Answers

     This is a followup to the September post in which I listed a lot of runners I hadn't seen or heard word of for years, or in some cases, decades.  Some were great stars, whose names had long ago dropped out of the news; others were guys I'd run with, long ago.  Here's what I learned from readers' responses.
     Two of the names I listed were stars who rocked the world when I was a young teen, and inspired me to become a runner:  Roger Bannister, who broke the 4-minute barrier for the mile in 1954, when I was an impressionable 13-year-old, and John Landy, the Australian who soon ran a sub-4 mile of his own and became Bannister's great rival.  Bannister's feat so galvanized the world that he was made a knight, by Queen Elizabeth II.  The day after my post, Jim Ferstle e-mailed me that "Sir Roger Bannister is alive and well in the UK" and that "John Landy was alive and well when I was in Australia in 1999."  My old friend Rich Englehardt, who, was a Washington Running Club teammate of mine in the 1970s, e-mailed that Landy became the governor of one of the states in Australia, and is now retired there.
     Among some guys I listed not because they were famous but because they were stars in the New Jersey high-school cross-country and track world where I got my start, just three were mentioned in any of the responses I received.  One was Mike Sabino, who ran for Plainfield High School, a rival of my Westfield, NJ team, and who decades later became one of the top masters runners in the East.  Sabino had an enviably fluid, quick-striding form that I was still trying to emulate 50 years after we'd both graduated.  After all those years, I was still wondering whether I might someday catch Mike in a race, when an e-mail from Greg Tsoucalas, forwarded by Kathleen Carmody, informed me that "Unfortunately, Mike Sabino and Herb Lorenz [another guy I'd listed] have both passed away...."  I'd been afraid, from the day I wrote it, that my "What Ever Became of" post might bring a shock or two like this.  No matter how often we're reminded that we are all mortal, it still somehow comes as a shock--maybe especially when mortality claims those whom we only knew as young athletes of seemingly superhuman capability.  In my admittedly sketchy memory, Herb Lorenz, who ruled the roads in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area, never lost a race.  As for Mike Sabino, maybe it's just a coincidence, but a few days after I got Greg's message, I was looking at trail-running shoes on line, and noticed that Montrail has a model called the Sabino.  Was that a tribute to Mike?
     Rich Englehardt sent news of several of the others I'd listed from my New Jersey, New York, and Washington, DC years, as well.  I'd listed Gary Muhrke and Tom Fleming, the two runners who  finished ahead of me in the inaugural New York Marathon in 1970, and Rich wrote that Gary "still runs a bit and made a pile of money from his Super Runner Shop in the New York City area," and that "Fleming is teaching and coaching in Joisey.  He doesn't run but plays basketball."  Rich also had news of Tom Osler, the pioneer ultrarunner of the 1960s who coined the term "long slow distance" (LSD, the secret of the runner's high).  He said Osler "is in Joisey, teaching math at Rowan University and still running slowly.  He had a couple of strokes several years ago and now has a pacemaker and isn't allowed to run hard, but still eases through a lot of races...."
     Along with people I'd run with personally, I listed some of the great runners of the 20th century whom I'd not heard anything about for decades.  Jim Ferstle told me that the former world marathon record-holder Rob DeCastella is still living in Australia, and Rich Englehardt added that "Deek" was at Boston last April, and that "he's big" and "I think he does some sort of martial arts thing now."  Ferstle reported that "Joanie" (1984 Olympic marathon champ Joan Benoit Samuelson) is still in Portland, Maine, and that Alex Ratelle (one of the past century's greatest masters runners), "last time I saw him, five years ago, was struggling with Alzheimer's."
     Katie Wolpert, of my old magazine Running Times, e-mailed that the Olympic marathoner Julie Isphording "is living in Cincinnati and directs the enormous Thanksgiving Day 10k there every November."  Katie also caught me up on the legendary masters runner Norm Green, whom she noted the magazine profiled in 2010.  Green had run a 2:27:42 marathon at age 55, making him the oldest American to break 2:30.  Assuming he's still living in Chesterfield, PA, where he was when the magazine last had contact with him, Norm should now be 79 years old.  He's a continuing inspiration to me, as I enter the 70-79 age group at the JFK 50-Mile next month.
     The most surprising response I got was from a guy my own age who recalled running against some of the New Jersey high-school runners I'd listed from half a century ago.  Richard Koenigsberg, who'd run for Columbia High School in Essex County, NJ, had finished second to the great Bobby Mack (another of my listees) in the Essex County cross-country championship in 1958. (Can you  say "1958"?)  Richard's name seemed familiar, and then I remembered why.  Out of a whole lifetime of competitive running, I can recall just a few actual, specific, moments--moments that for one reason or another will be registered in my mental album for as long as I live.  About 53 years ago this month, the Westfield High School cross-country team had a meet coming up against powerful Columbia High and its undefeated runner Dick Koenigsberg.  I was scared, because I was the leading runner on the Westfield team but lacked self-confidence and tended to get too tense--and to tighten up--under pressure.  My father had very recently taught me a trick of relaxation, and it had been an epiphany: if the muscles are loose and relaxed, they can perform far better than if they're tight.  In the race with Columbia, Dick Koenigsberg took the lead as expected, but about half-way through the race I remembered my father's advice and went into the ultra-relaxed state he had suggested.  Suddenly, I found myself passing the guy I'd been so afraid of, and that moment is still with me as if it were yesterday.  A newspaper clip in my album of high school exploits confirms that I finished 30 yards ahead of Koenigsberg, although I have no memory of the  finish itself, only that one moment of passing--and passage.
     I e-mailed Richard Koenigsberg back, reminding him of that race.  In responding to my post, he hadn't connected my name to his own running at first, but with my reminder he recalled that before the Westfield meet that year his coach had told his team that Westfield's top runner was a really bad-ass guy.  Now, 53 years later, he replied to my reminder: "So you are the evil Ed Ayres!"  With the perspective of age, he seemed amused by his coach's characterization of me.  After another exchange of e-mails, it seemed to me that if we'd met under different circumstances, we'd probably have been good friends.  But the 1950s were the decade after the end of World War II, and maybe the way coaches primed their young men for an athletic competition then wasn't unlike the way military officers prepared soldiers for battle.  In sports like football or boxing or hockey, maybe it's that way still.  But now, more than half a century after my race with Richard, he told me that despite his coach's exhortations, "It's funny, I never felt competitive toward the people I ran against.  I wanted ro win and do the best for myself, but I rarely thought of 'beating' the other guy....  I knew they had to go through the same thing [as I] to get where they were."  When I read this, I thought, "What an amazing thing the Internet has given us--the opportunity not only to reconnect with long-lost friends but to have second chances at making connections we'd failed to make half a lifetime ago.
     Before I forget, there was one response, from Paul Schuster, noting that I'd made a mistake about Gerry Lindgren.  I had written, in my opening paragraph, that the legendary Lindgren had set a national high-school 2 mile record that stood for 40 years.  Schuster wrote that incredible as that record was, it had actually been broken long ago.
     Finally, an update on a guy named Bob Zoellick, who was an occasional training partner of mine in the 1970s, when we were both in Washington, DC.  Bob didn't have great running form, but was tough enough to run marathons in the 2:30s on sheer guts.  Bob, I learned, is now president of the World Bank.  And that gives me an idea, now that people are marching in the streets against the big banks.  Instead of just Occupy Wall Street, why don't those of us who've been cast aside in the global rich-poor divide--whether we be Americans, Arabs, Africans, or Asians--decide the time has come to Occupy the World?  When we runners are out on the trail, isn't it obvious that this world is ours to enjoy and protect just as much as it is David Koch's or the hedge-fund billionaires' or the King of Saudi Arabia's?  When it comes to saving the oceans, the atmosphere, and the tops of Appalachian mountains now being lopped off for coal, Bob Z, here's a suggestion from your old running buddy:  You need to redirect some of that World Bank money!