The Twilight Runner

... Bronze is sometimes brighter than gold.

Richard Umbro

My ride arrived at 6 a.m., it was a cool and crisp morning.
The dew still clung to the grass, and a wisp of air carried
the perfumed scent of lilac.  I made a quick mental check of
the things I needed: sneakers, running shorts, light jersey,
sweater, extra pair of socks.  Morning pleasantries were exchanged
as I entered the car. I was on my way to Springfield College, in
Springfield, to participate in the Massachusetts Senior Olympic
Games - for athletes over the age of 50. It was Saturday, June 12, 2014.
My registration and nominal fee had been mailed in several weeks
prior. I had always wanted to compete in this event; however, like most of
us, there were too many things to do, too many commitments, and
precious little time to do it, Now with "Father Time" catching up to me,
I decided to go for the roses.  What did I have to lose?  I was 80 years
of age, and time was of the essence.

It was early and the traffic was light; however, it was still going to
be about a two-hour drive. My driver and I engaged in some small talk
for a while, and during an interlude in conversation, I closed my eyes,
put my head back and reflected on how quickly the years went by.  I was in
the twilight of my years and discovered, in this stage of life, one is
confronted with a sometimes-humorous vocabulary of new words, to which I
was reluctantly, introduced.  As in senior citizen, senior discount, senior
moment, companionship, chair lift, face lift, prune juice, reverse mortgages,
reversal of fortune, re-runs- as in "Lawrence Welk" - last will, last testament
and, last but not least, platonic.  The last usually accompanied with sardonic snickering.

I awoke from my senior moment to a large banner strung across the entrance to the
college facade: "Welcome to the Senior Olympic Games. " Entering the reception area.
I was greeted by young college students. who proceeded to hand me pamphlets, circulars
and a T-shirt emblazoned with an Olympic Games logo. There was coffee, danish and
donuts, if anyone so desired.  I checked in at the registration desk, my name was there,
and I signed in.  I declined the continental breakfast and asked directions to the main
athletic field.  A young college boy and girl in unison said, "This way sir," I laughed
to myself as I followed them and thought, did they mean "sir" as anovert reference to
my elder stature or a covert reference to my dinosaur status? Oh well, I was young
once - now, how long ago was that?

My eyes opened to the largest athletic field I had ever seen. Hundreds of track and
field event participants were warming up; javelins and discus were in the air.  High
jumpers, long jumpers, hurdlers and hammer throwers.  I was ushered into a white-covered
tent.  Apparently, blood pressure and pulse had to be checked out.  I passed muster and
proceeded to where the running events took place. I marveled at the grace and form of the
runners.  They appeared to have been in training for years. I was beginning to have my
doubts about this.  It looked like I was out of my league.  I had signed up for several
events and was informed that the 50-meter run was to be first.  I ran a few practice laps
to shake out the cobwebs - my body, that is, not my mind.

The loudspeaker blared, "50-meter runners, take your positions."  They affixed a number
to the left side of my running shorts. No  - it was not number 7 - that would be dramatic.  
It was a mundane number 4. "Mundane," a word "Webster" refers to as ordinary or common.  
Were they trying to tell me something?  We entered our lanes, four to my left, three to my
right.  The runner to my left was about 6 feet 7 and had to weigh 200 pounds.  He looked
like Sampson before he met Delilah.  The runner on my right looked like he was auditioning
for the title role of Hercules in a movie.  I weighed about 160 pounds, soaking wet.  This
was not going to be easy.

Now, there comes a time in every man's life when the leaves of his September have danced
their last dance and his last rose of summer asks one more chance.  Who am I, where have
I been, where am I going, what am I doing here, do I have anything left?  Will I ride to
glory on a painted pony or will I ride the "Pale Horse"?  I was about to find out.

The starter approaches, pistol in hand.  We enter the starting blocks, left foot first,
then right.  The steel is rigid, they clang in place.  I crouch to position, fingers
trembling as they touch the red clay.  A bead of sweat moistens my wrinkled brow.  
Silent anticipation fuels the tension.  The moment of truth is near, and I wonder: Will
they play the theme from "Rocky," or will they strike up the band and send in the clowns?  
The calm before this storm is perfect.

The shot rings out, the runners lurch forward, the crowd roars it's approval and they
rise as one.  The race of revelation is on.  Suddenly, in the tumult and turmoil of
that moment, my worst nightmare appeared - I was running last.  In that instant, a rush
of competitive adrenaline from long ago found its way to my faltering stride, my legs
rose to the challenge, as I passed one runner, then another. I was once again riding in
the chariot of my youth.  I reached back in time for a little more. I was that 17-year-old
boy again: the one they all called "Kid Flash," the one who won every dash. The frenzied
seconds ticked away, and I realized I had left behind two more runners. It was sheer
intestinal fortitude now.  The finish  line was a blur of three bodies catapulting
across the tape at seemingly the same time.  It was going to be a photo finish.

Hands on hips and gasping for air, we walked in circles waiting for a decision.  Soon an
official walked toward us; he was carrying three medals.  He ceremoniously handed the gold
to the winner, the silver to another and, as he draped the bronze around my neck, he said,
"Congratulations - that was one unforgettable finish." Later that morning I went on to win
a silver in another event.  However, the bronze was a very special hard-earned prize that I
will forever cherish.  It is not often that a twilight runner is afforded the gift to enter
the arena for one last time, and, if one is fortunate - that may be an incredible coincidence.  
And if one is blessed with faith - that may be a Divine Intervention.

   March 4, 2016

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