It All Comes Down To….

This. “Runners to your marks.”

I spent the whole day being anxious about the track meet that was to begin in the afternoon. I couldn’t think of anything else. I was to run the high hurdles and compete in the long jump. I was OK at the hurdles but I was really good, if I do say so myself, at the long jump. I was 15 years old. The meet was a preliminary state meet. The athletes that qualified in their events got to go on to the state meet.

It was an overcast day and uncharacteristically cold — in the 40s. My first heat was the high hurdles. In previous meets I had beaten all of the others, except one. He was a fellow from Sacramento High School. So being the young and somewhat arrogant boy that I was, I did not adequately warm up. This proved to be catastrophic.

In practice I was good at my own school. Only one student beat me in the hurdles. Scott was a bit taller than was I by about 3 – 4 inches. Whereas the hurdles came to about the hip bones above the crotch on me, Scott’s legs were that much longer than mine. I had to slightly jump to get over the hurdle. Scott could glide over them. In practice we traded winning heats. Scott was a 100 and a 200 meter sprinter. (Back then it was the 100 yard dash and the 220 yard dash.) I would run wide open to the 200 mark and then die the rest of the way in the quarter mile. Ugh! Scott left me in the dust.

When it came to the long jump, though, I could fly – even at 15 years of age. It felt so good to sprint down the runway, then to hit the board just right leaving about an inch to spare, running in the air until just the beginning of the downward momentum, then stretching on out for the extra little bit of distance, being sure to fall forward so the mark was set where my heels hit the sand, not my butt.

So, back to the story. The high hurdles. A preliminary heat in a preliminary meet to the state meet to be held a couple weeks later.

“Runners to your marks. Set. Bang!” I had a good start. I could tell that the fellow from Sacramento High School and I were going to get to the first hurdle at about the same time. Therefore, there was no room for any mistakes for the rest of the race. I popped up my right leg to take the first hurdle. Something snapped. I hit the hurdle and crumpled on the other side of the hurdle. I crawled off the track and felt a lot of pain in my right hip. My coach came over, obviously disgusted with my poor performance, kicked me thinking it was a muscle cramp due to not warming up properly, told me to get up and walk it off. I was unable to walk. I had never had a cramp like this.

My father and I went to Sacramento State University to get treatment from one of the Olympic trainers. He said they had just received a new technology that was supposed to work wonders on just this sort of injury – ultrasound. I went for visits over a period of a couple of weeks. No change. Then we went to the local orthopedic surgeon that treated Olympic athletes. It had been at least a couple of weeks since the injury. He ordered some x-rays. I turned out that when my muscle stretched out to get over the hurdle the muscle actually tore away from the ischium and, as a result, calcium bled out of the wound and the muscle was reattaching to the calcium deposit, not the bone itself.

My track career was over. Nevertheless, I still had the capacity to perform in a type of circus manner. One church in Atlanta, Georgia, had a fund-raising event. One of the possible bids was how far could Charlie jump in the high school track behind the church. Bids came in, most of them pretty low. I cleared the sand pit by a couple of feet. Another time after seminary, a young man within the congregation I was serving had won the state meet in the 100. I bragged to him that I was pretty good myself “back in the day.” He challenged to a race. So, in the field behind the church we got ready, set, and go! I beat him handily. Then I went back into the church and threw up!

I can still feel the calcium deposit as I sit here typing this 53 years later.

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