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If you listen carefully you can learn a lot. So it was when I listened to the deacon in my church give his sermon one Sunday.
I guess I did not expect some of the things he said, but nevertheless I listened intently.
His opening started out with the question, “Do you know who Yogi Berra was?” Right away I was interested. Then he spoke of what are known as “Yogisms”. Now I was hooked!
Yogi said some memorable things, in a way most people did not understand, or more likely would not have said in the manner he was known to say.
Most memorable to me was the quote, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” I used that once in a race in Milton Keynes, England. The race was being contested in what was, at the time, the world’s largest indoor shopping mall.
The circuit was nearly 900 meters in a rectangular shape. Once side of the mall was two stories high, joined by a hallway of the same height and the other two sides were close to 4 stories high. The high sides were the entrance and the main court, where the timing was set up.
It was February and quite cold outside, so each time the doors opened to the entrance the cold air swooshed in. The opposite side was toasty warm. Thus every 450 meters we went from warm to cold.
The mall shops closed on Saturday night and were not open on Sunday, but a fast food restaurant chain had recently opened its doors and was being allowed to stay open 24/7. Being new, crowds soon appeared and lines formed, meaning the doors were constantly being opened and the cold air remained on that side of the course.
It also, was the first time a 24-hour run was billed as a World Challenge, meaning there would be individuals and teams from throughout the world invited. The International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) 24-hour event was organized with the help of John Foden, who also served as its race director. John was one of three British Royal Air Force officers who researched the legend of Pheidippides, the military courier who delivered the message that the Greeks had defeated the overwhelming forces of the Persian army, at the Battle of Marathon, in 490 B.C. and then “expired”.
The surface was not much better than Pheidippedes may have covered. It was slippery and hard, marble flooring. This hard surface would be the demise of many of the best runners in the world.
Only 3 Americans officially qualified for selection to the race, 2 women, Sue Ellen Trapp and Randi Bromka, and myself. They also allowed one of the top U.S. Masters runners to compete, based on a stellar performance in his age group.
As the race progressed, the Americans all suffered. Randi was the first to succumb to the hard surface, then the Masters gentleman and finally Sue Ellen.
The race director approached me as I was lying on a massage table and said words similar to this: “I suppose you are going to go the route of the other colonials?”
I, without thinking for a second, retorted, “It ain’t over till it’s over! I got off the therapist’s table and began to run again. I was not suffering from the hard surface, but rather the constantly changing temperatures, roughly every quarter-of-a-mile. The massage therapist insisted I put on running tights and extra socks to keep my hamstrings warm and my feet cushioned. I followed his instructions; put on my team tights and another lightly cushioned pair of Wigwam socks.
Later, as I was moving up through the field of failing runners, into the top 10, John approached me and asked what I meant by that saying. I explained it was a quote from a baseball celebrity and that I interpreted it to mean, don’t count me out, till I’m out. He laughed and wished me luck.
Eventually, I took over the bronze medal position and was gunning for the silver. I got close, but never caught the Australian, Bryan Smyth or the winner, Don Ritchie.
As I left the course after a final sprint to break the 154-mile mark, and went 313 yards beyond, I thought back to where I had begun.
Another quote from Yogi came to mind. It pretty much explained why I was here, the first American ultra runner to wear the USA colors and win a world championship medal. His quote: “When you come to a fork in the road…Take it!”
I once was obese, smoked upward of two packs of cigarettes a day and was known to drink more than my share on occasion. I was on the road of self-destruction, but when the fork in the road presented itself, I chose to take the one less traveled and become more than I thought I could.
Like socks, choose your road wisely!