I believe in those who care enough to tell us necessary truths. In the early 80’s, I was a sophomore at Iowa State University, trying to be an athlete-student and failing at both tasks. During cross country season, we ran up to 100 miles a week. A couple of times, I got so tired, I fell asleep at the dinner table. One day, a senior on the track team took me aside and told me I just didn’t have the physical ability to be a major college runner. In effect, he told me to give up. Jim asked me to leave before I dug an even bigger hole in my GPA. If I insisted on running, to find a small college where I might be competitive, but to leave.
Of course, I didn’t believe him. I was going to continue to improve. To qualify for the Olympic Trials, if not the Olympics someday. Mind over lack of enough fast twitch fibers or lung capacity. Why just that fall, when the Kenyans arrived out of shape( a beer belly on a guy who is 5’8” and 125 pounds is a strange sight), I ran ahead of them. OK, ahead of them for four days. By early September, they weighed 120 pounds and carried on conversations about economic theory at 5 minute per mile pace. I just tried to avoid asking passing drivers for a ride home halfway through the workout.
To his credit, Jim never laughed at my delusions. Neither did our coach, who tolerated me hanging on, even though my greatest contribution consisted of picking up a future world record holder from the airport. He even listed me as a team member when the team, (‘we’ is such a strong word), won conference. I think he even noticed when I left and transferred to a liberal arts college in Lincoln, Nebraska.
A few years later Jim came to Lincoln to run in a road race. Fast enough to get his trip paid for, he arrived at his hotel to check in and found me standing behind the front desk. We hadn’t kept in touch. Just for a moment, I think he wondered about the wisdom of his cold advice. Wondered until he knew this job was how I was paying my way through law school. Or that I got my athletic moments, and if being all conference in the Nebraska Intercollegiate Athletic Conference wasn’t a trip to the LA Games, what was.
Or that I met the only woman I’ll ever love because a teammate there invited her to a party.
Jim didn’t have to tell me the truth. But he did. He made me face reality. I didn’t thank him that day at the hotel and I certainly didn’t when he beat me badly in the race the next day. I should have. Believing in someone you care about is the easy part. Telling them you believe in them, but not that much, that’s tough love. Thanks, Jim.
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