Cal Trout column
Guest Column by Cal Trout
(Editor’s note: Cal Trout has been an instructor of English at South Panola High School. In April, 2007, his spine was broken in an auto accident.)
The Trainer: She’s only 17. A bright kid. A top-tier student. Broke her leg last fall when someone slid needlessly into her during an exhibition softball game. Still she’s a potentially college-scholarship-bound athlete. And she’s convinced me to run in this godforsaken 5K.
“It’ll be good for you,” she said. “You don’t have to win. It’ll be good just to know you finished.”
Training: There would have to be training. We only had two weeks. And so she put me on a hellish two week program. Things hurt. Parts I forgot I had offered piercing pain to remind me how old I really am:
Back: Each run begins with a tightening then spasm about the mid-spine. Finally after about a mile it relaxes unless I take the meds beforehand, in which case it subsides more quickly. At a mile and a half there’s a stabbing pain down the left side of my back that tingles and peters out toward my side. After that, it’s cake except for the constant fear that the doctors are wrong about the possibility of nerve damage from the injury.
Ankles: How can something so tiny cause so complex and profound a pain? I hurt them thirteen years ago in separate basketball games, but they haven’t hurt in years. That is, until the Führer of the Third Reich of Running takes me to the cross country track. The pain emanates from the bottom of my left leg and streaks up the outside of that leg. It is undeniable. I am old. But because of how happy she seems every time I finish, I can’t let her down. And, I need to know one year after I was broken in half that I can do this. I need that proof of God and the viability of His creation. Not faith, mind you. Proof.
The Trail: It’s 1.6 miles long and consists of several different types of terrain. From rock hard North Mississippi Clay to gravel to pavement, mud, flats and insanely steep hills. It’s the gravel that does my ankles; the hill, my back. We run it once and I feel lucky to have finished. She tells me next we’ll run it twice plus two laps around the school as a “peak day.” She does it with no problem. I’m doing well at the 2.5 mile mark when my left big toe falls asleep.
“Oh no!” I think. “Running causes paralysis!” But soon I settle down and try to become familiar with this new injury. In two minutes my whole left foot is asleep. Feels like I’m running on a sack of tingly potatoes. I have to stop. I loosen my shoe laces. Stretch. Walk. At the three mile mark, I can run again. The next time we run, it doesn’t happen. Figure it’s a fluke.
Race Day: There’s been discussion over what’s the best energy food for a runner. Protein’s out. It’s down to carbs or fat. She says pasta or potatoes. My dad says fat and has research to back it up. So, I eat ground beef spaghetti the night before. Courtesy of the Quongs. Best of both worlds. Right.
She’d had prom the night before, and only a few hours before she’d been dancing. I slept all night. Bought a new ankle brace at Wal Mart at 6:30 that morning. We stretch. Chat a bit about her prom and line up.
We’re off and after two blocks, I’m lagging behind. She’s within sight at the rear of the lead group. I think, “Why isn’t Haley running?” By the time I turn the corner on the next block, she’s gone.
After the water at the 1.6 mile mark, my toe goes night-night again. After 2.5 I have to stop. Take two minutes to loosen the laces and the brace. Another .3 and stop again. My whole foot is gone now. So, I take the brace off and run the rest of it with it in my hand. Time: just under 35 minutes. Sprinted the last 100 yards. Felt good, except my ankles. Haley won her division even though she caught a terrible cramp and walked at least a quarter of mile and “jogged the rest.”
We all need small successes in life. The young to build confidence for what is to come, the old to know we aren’t always deteriorating. We all need special people in our lives. Sometimes it’s an angel of hope and mercy in the form of a fearless, caring young lady.