This story is from CSF Athletic Director Frank Ostanik's weekly publication of The Full Curl
I saw her, running just ahead of me. If I had to guess, I would say the distance between us was about the length of a basketball court. I was a bit surprised to see her ahead of me, amidst so many others. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like I thought she was in bad shape or anything, I just thought I would be ahead of her. I figured I would catch her, it would be just a matter of time -- before the halfway mark, for sure.
I had been asked to be the Ram for this year’s Running With The Rams Fun Run a few months earlier and readily said yes, with the understanding that I might not be available if I was able to find a sheep hunting partner and a mountain to climb. Alas, I was unable to do so, so here I was, ready for my first workout since my conditioning class ended back in early May. Cass Ferree, one of the many organizers of this magnificent event, gave me only one task as the Ram: don’t run too fast, since those who beat the Ram are entered in a $100 drawing. If I were to run too fast, it would defeat the purpose of having a drawing. At 48 year of age and three months between myself and my last workout, I assured her that wouldn’t be a problem.
The evening was beautiful, like the Good Lord had a vested interest in the success of this year’s Running with the Rams. I double knotted my shoes and after arguing with Mrs. Ferree, donned my goofy Ram hat for the race. I headed out to the starting line where Ivy Nicholson, mother of four Rams and assistant track and field coach, was leading a group stretch. After some brief instructions from our elementary principal, Mrs. Angaiak, I gave the countdown and pulled the trigger on the starter pistol. For the second time in as many years, the pistol did not fire, spurring me to yell, “GO!” at the top of my lungs.
I handed my pistol off and bolted. The race began auspiciously, as I proceeded to run into a rope, almost falling and breaking my neck. After untangling myself and losing about four seconds in the process, I was off and running. With 130 runners, the race had grown from last year and and I was right smack in the middle of this gaggle of arms and legs and heavy breathing. I saw so many familiar faces. To my right was Jen Hodges, a model of fitness, running like a gazelle Just ahead was Ann Marie White, half the genetics that led to her daughter’s winning of the cross country region title as a freshman last year. Up ahead was Dave Bloom, who I remember fondly from all the clean-up days the morning after HIPOW. Dave Szumigala, the Monroe Catholic Ram trivia savant and winner of approximately 37 Monroe t-shirts, was up ahead.
The course was somewhat familiar to me, as I often follow much of this same course with my conditioning class during the fall and spring when the weather is nice enough to run outside. It was about a quarter of the way, as we passed Slater Park (another popular spot for my conditioning class to workout) that the crowd began to thin a bit. It was also here that Landon Nicholson, who started one minute after I took off, passed me. There is something terribly humbling about being passed by someone who spotted you a minute. However, I could manage to justify this by acknowledging Landon as one of the better runners in the area. It’s an altogether different deal to get passed by a bunch of young ladies who spotted you a minute. Katie Bast, Lauren White, and Grace Hodges passed me like I was a lamp post, cemented in a sidewalk. The rest of the boys and girls cross- country team would all do the same.
As I ran, I thought of all the people it takes to make something like this work. Lorna Illingworth, our safety liaison, did an amazing job. At every turn, there was someone giving direction, ensuring nobody got lost. Spray paint, which someone painstakingly put down along the trail, dotted the course. There were the wonderful ladies, many I know from the HIPOW office, handing out water. The sponsors of the race, Bast Dental, The Mayer Clinic and Florcraft Carpet One, all gave generously to ensure we had everything we needed to make the event successful. Somewhere along the way it hit me, this is not just a fun run, but a Community Event, encompassing all the wonderful aspects of who we are -- camaraderie, service, family and fun. As all of this ran though my mind, Maura Grahek, sister to my favorite Grahek (Lauren) and granddaughter to one of the great huggers the world has known (Judy) passed me.
The evening really was beautiful. The sun glistened and I began to curse my decision to wear a long-sleeved shirt. I thought about taking it off, but guessed doing so would probably ruin the race for everyone. Heck, Mrs. O would prefer I wear my t-shirt to the pool when on vacation.
As I reached the halfway mark and headed home, I began to tire. The beauty of a course that leads you back from the direction you came is you get to see those individuals who are racing, but happened to be behind you. There was my sister, Brandy, organizer of the best holiday bazaar in Fairbanks, and my niece Rudi, the next great Monroe softball player. Next I saw Linda Anderson, whose grandson Bruce happens to be one of the nicest young men in our school. This year if I can get Bruce to stop dribbling baseline and picking the ball up after two dribbles, my hair may grow back. There was Martina Coiley, who along with her husband, Shayne, and mother, Bev, does so much for our school. Seeing so many folks walking and running brought a smile to my face as I handed out high fives.
As I reached the halfway mark and headed home, my legs felt heavy and I slowed a bit. Three months of eating chips, donuts and ribeyes (not at the same time) and running basketball camps had taken their toll. Running a basketball camp only leaves your vocal cords stronger, not your legs. I felt like walking, but I saw her, and determined that there was no way I could lose to her. After two-thirds of the race, I had not gained an inch. It was at this point, as we ran along the river, inching toward the bridge that would lead us home, I noticed a young man just ahead of me. He couldn’t have come up to my waist and looked like he had to be about seven, maybe eight years old. Finally, I caught him, but he just ran ahead. Then I caught him again, and he ran ahead again. I found myself running a bit harder and it dawned on me: my pace was being set by an elementary student. I overtook Maura Grahek, who passed me earlier.
I picked up the pace with Slater Park to my right and the house of Chris and Joan Stepovich to my left. I coached three of their sons and Chris has been instrumental in so much of what we do, securing sponsorships and cooking for our Mt. McKinley Bank Holiday Classic luncheons, providing breakfast as we would head out on a road trip at 7am. Never do I pass by this house without recalling fond memories of celebratory get togethers after big wins years ago.
After passing the house, I realized I was running out of time. If I was going to reel her in, I would need to make my move. Coming down Betty Street the gap closed. The little guy was still ahead of me -- I had lost all confidence in catching him -- but the gap between him and the one I was chasing down had diminished and I knew it would be just a matter of time before I passed her. We came down Betty and made the turn on to Ina. I took off like I was coming into the stadium during the last leg of the Olympic marathon, with the entire nation cheering. She first smiled as the little guy passed her along the south entrance of the high school. That smile turned to a look of frustration as she caught the Ram passing her. I was at full speed -- or at least what passes for full speed at my age. I smiled. Mrs. Angaiak was mine.
Look, I could have let her win. However, I just couldn’t run the risk of her poking her head around from her office in mid November to say, “Hey, remember when we both ran in the Running With The Rams Race and I beat you?” I do want to thank her for pushing me and being the carrot to my mule. Without Mrs. Angaiak, I would never have run so hard.
Finally, as I caught my breath, I found the little guy and shook his hand. His name turned out to be Mick Dobbs and he happens to be in 1st grade. That is correct, I lost to a 1st grader. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know one thing. Mick Dobbs . . . I am coming for you next year. You're mine. I have given you fair warning. I will have my redemption.
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