Cherish this day, for tomorrow will be different, and today will be gone forever.
As I have alluded to in previous columns, I run for the UC Davis Track and Field team. Because of two partial lung collapses my freshman year, and the resulting surgery and loss of fitness, this is only the third year out of my five-year college career that I am on the team. It is early in the season, but the season is also my last. This thought sticks with me often.
There is no way I would have the confidence, strength, ambition, resilience, determination, social skills, self-respect, fitness and knowledge of fitness that I do if I had not listened to my high school P.E. teacher and joined the track team. All of these qualities were immeasurably reinforced by making it as a walk-on here in Davis. I am far from perfect, but I owe much of my improvement to the sport.
Nevertheless, thanks to the conclusion of my college career and my athletic eligibility, I am beginning to see the big picture of track in my life, beginning to see what is ending.
I will miss hearing runners to your marks and stepping forward, over my blocks, stretching as I load myself into them. I will miss the feeling I have when the gun goes off and I am in an instant liberated to run as fast as I can. I will miss having a quarter of a mile of track allotted just for me, to cover with all possible speed God and my coach (it can be easy to confuse the two) have given me.
I will miss the sound my sprinting foot, tightly wrapped in a purple and gold running spike, makes on an all-weather track. I will even miss the pain that comes after 250 meters, 300 meters, 350 meters, of my 400 meter race. And I will miss crossing that line when I have run well, when all eyes of the stadium are on me because no one was before me. In Division I, that is a rare experience for me. It is a feeling made all the more sweet by its rarity.
But most of all, I will miss something that is not even exclusively mine to miss: being part of a team. The fondest memories of my entire track career are of the 4×400 meter relay, in which four people each cover a quarter mile. There is something that members of a small team feel that is perhaps akin to what soldiers of a platoon feel in combat, an unspoken camaraderie and shared fate, both of which drive us further and harder than we would be alone.
When that baton is in my hand for those 49 or so seconds, I am running half for me, and half for others. This is to say nothing of the awareness of the greater team, those we spot around the track and in the field who are wearing the same uniform as we are.
We on the team know how it is to train and race at this level of competition. It puts us in touch with a part of the human spirit that for many is atrophied, a certain intimacy with pain, a physical hardness that translates elsewhere in life as simple dedication.
I have a little longer than two months left before I retire. In the future I may run at all-comers’ meets, and I hope to coach track in high school one day. But I will never be in the shape I am now, never turn in the times I do now, never have the team I have now.
But it is not over yet. Putting these thoughts into words is not just a summary of the past, but also a preparation for the future. I still have time to relish the last few meets of my athletic career, to be on a great team with great people, to improve the times in my personal record book before that book is closed. This time of my life is precious. This time of my life is almost over.
ROB OLSON is glad to have company in retiring with Brett Favre. To give him more company, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX