Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gerav Band

I was reminded that I am not really a member of the team. As I arrived for what was supposed to be a 10 am start, the guys were getting started. Turns out, the coach had decided to start at 9:30. So with only a short warm-up, I gave chase. It wasn’t even close. I kept up for ¾ of a mile and then, given the choice of dying from over-exertion or stopping, I (wisely?) chose the latter. As luck would have it, there were two runners who were going at a slower pace, having worked hard the day before. I fell in line with them.

After a while, Patrick, whose heart doesn’t seem to be quite in it, dropped back, and I was left with one other runner. For a while we ran in silence, and then, silence not really being my forte, I introduced myself. He introduced himself as Gerav. Having never heard that name, I asked what type of name that was and he told me he was Indian. Up until that moment, I had assumed that all the runners on the team were Hispanic. Thinking about it, I realized how little I know about the community around me, outside of my own. It hadn’t been my reason for running with the team, but I started thinking about what else I would gain from running with the team.

We ran on some more, with Gerav leading the way. We trudged our way up a hill and then…he turned onto my street. I was about to point out my house, but I stopped. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it seemed too personal for someone I just met, maybe it was about maintaining my privacy, possibly something a little more insidious was holding me back, but I remained silent.

Was it a missed opportunity? I suspect I will have the chance again. For now I am curious to get to know the boys a little better and in the process, get to know myself a little more, warts and all.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Clothes Call

What should I wear? I am terrified. I am far from the coolest guy in the world. Tomorrow is my first day of school.

I remember that feeling like it was yesterday despite the fact that it happened 26 years ago. I am getting dressed to go running with the Passaic High Cross-Country team and having feelings of déjà vu. Only this time, I am not only feeling uncool, but old as well. I am looking through my running stuff trying to find the outfit that will least make me look like that old guy with the dress socks pulled up to his knees and the Rockport walking shoes with the Velcro straps; to them and to me. I rule out the shirts that say anything about marathons. They seem like too much of an effort to show that I have running cred. Truth is, like with my first day of school, I am most likely to be ignored anyway. I am probably putting too much thought into this decision. I get dressed and head over to the park.

I stand off to the side waiting to be noticed, like a 12 year old at my first dance and finally, after what seems like ages, the coach says “so you are running with us?”. I nod trying not to seem scared. As the team starts to warm up, one of the guys looks at me and smiles in a not entirely comforting way and says’ you might want to stretch a little”. The coach informs us that we will be running six miles at half speed. Of course, he means half speed for them not for me. There are a couple of young guys in the back who are going a bit slower having done a tough workout the day before and, in an act of self-preservation, I decide to stick with them. One thing I know; if I don’t finish this workout, I am finished. They will never accept me.

Surprisingly, I keep up. Two out of the four guys in our subgroup drop out, so it is me and one other runner. We run on silently, breathing hard. Finally, I introduce myself as Marc, not wanting to stand out more. by using my Jewish name. His name is Luis (or is it Louis? I am too embarrassed to ask). As we get to the steep hill by the cemetery that I euphemistically call “Death Hill” I realize that this is my make it or break it moment. I have stopped part of the way up the hill before at a slower pace. This time, that is not an option. Then, because I have no choice, I make it to the top. Luis and I even pass one of the faster runners who is struggling a bit.

I think I’ve passed my first test. What do the other guys think? That remains to be seen.

Getting Started

It has the makings of a classic fish out of water story. A middle aged Orthodox rabbi starts training with a cross country team from the local high school. The boys on the team, barely one third of his age, as well as the coach, are Hispanic. The Disney version would have them learn about each other and become close, while the team unexpectedly wins the state title. I don’t know how the real life version will end, as I am only at the beginning of story.

I’ve written before about my strong desire to play on a team when I was in high school. The only choices were basketball and baseball and I was not good enough at either of those sports. I was left to look jealously at the jocks, as they walked with their pretty girlfriends, wearing their team jackets. Looking back, I am far from certain that being on a team would have dramatically changed my life, but back then I was not so sure.

As I’ve gotten into running, I have found myself at times looking at some impossibly thin high school runner, and wondering “What if?”. Most Orthodox high schools don’t have cross country teams and none did when I was in school. Could running have been my ticket to a team jacket, if not a pretty girlfriend?

Well here I am almost 25 years out of high school. I know I can’t go back and besides, I’m already married to a beautiful woman. Still, I’d like to, at least peripherally, be on a team. That’s why I asked Coach Fazio if I could run with his guys sometimes and why I was so happy when he said yes.

I don’t know where this will lead, or how long it will last, but I look forward to finding out.