The Legend of 5-Peat, a Memoir

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Sports
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Last weekend was the 84th edition of the Kansas Relays.  It saw many stirring performances and some great individual efforts.  However, when I think KU Relays I don’t think of my own races there.  Nor of the recent battles on the track that made the KU Relays in 2011 a great event.  No.  I’m taken back to 2006.  When as a true freshman I bore witness to a performance that will echo through eternity like a brazen cry from atop a mountain peak.  I was there, Burnpoetry readers.  I saw him.

I was a freshman at Wichita State University at the time and was slated to compete in the 800 and the 4xMile relay at the 79th installment of the KU Relays.  I was excited to compete in such a storied even and equally as excited to watch some of the world-class talent that would run in the meet.  The KU Relays attract some of the best U.S. and international competitors that track and field has to offer and this year was no exception.

As I headed down to check in for my first race of the day, the collegiate 800, I was excited to compete and was aware that the field would be both competitive and unpredictable.  However, I was unaware that I was about to witness something so epic and profound that it would shake me to my very core and change my view of the sporting world for all of time.

I first saw him at the check-in stand, a place where runners would sign in with race officials and receive heat information and numbers to be identified with during the competition.  Normally I didn’t pay attention to many of the other competitors before a race, as I was usually honing in on the task at hand.  One competitor, however was completely un-ignorable.

Clad in an outrageously expensive Adidas singlet, his gangly arms sprouting out at all angles like a dying tree, the runner was a neon sign of un-athleticism.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had my share of bad race predictions based on outward appearances (*Author’s note: epitomized by the “Rupp Incident of 2003” when I, along with my brother and father, taunted Galen Rupp for rocking a nasal strip and running shorts short enough to make a rap video dancer blush and famously predicted that he would most likely “suck.”) but this runner wore goofiness and physical ineptitude as easily as he wore his skimpy black shorts.  The ludicrous outfit culminated with two raucous, bright orange arm bands that he sported on the ends of his pipe-cleaner-sized arms.  Clearly he was ready.  For what, however, was unclear.

Shortly after my initial shock wore off at seeing such a side-show-quality character I was shuffled off to compete and drug ass through my usual 800 meter run.  After running another disappointingly lackluster race on KU’s sponge-cake of a track I staggered over to the water station and turned to watch my teammates run their races.  Garcia and Sco-Jo ran well enough and came to join me where I was coughing up a lung on the sidelines.  As I was in mid-asthmatic wheeze I caught sight of two familiar tangerine armbands attached to familiar Mary Kate Olsen-sized biceps dangling at the starting line.

“This oughta be good,” I said pointing to the starting line.

The gun went off, obviously scaring the piss out of the inanely-garbed object of our attention.  After slowly recovering from his full-body shock, which made deer in headlights everywhere look decisive, he took off.  Immediately chugging to the back of the pack, he doggedly clung to last place.  It was a painful few minutes before he bungled his way across the line, chest heaving and breathing in death-rasping pants that immediately called to mind what Reuben Studdard would look like after running wind sprints.

He was mere inches away from keeling over as he lurched to a stop.

Sco-Jo cackled madly, trying to regain his breath.  Garcia’s mouth stood open, parted at the lips in shock.  All I could muster, for my part, were whispered swear words.  Already feeling lucky for having witnessed such out-and-out insanity I joined my teammates on a cooldown run.

Shortly after our cooldown, we were watching another teammate run the collegiate mile.  As heat after heat of miles were run my attention waned.  But then, during one of the final heats, in the peripherals of sight I spotted something.  Something familiar.  Something neon, eye-wrenching clown-makeup orange.  Something in absolutely.  Dead.  Freaking.  Last.

“Holy shit,” I gasped, slapping Garcia on the shoulder and directing his attention back down to the track.  “It’s him!”

Our boy was midway through his second race in roughly 40 minutes and was faring no better the second time around.  In fact, if it was possible, he was faring worse.  His face was screwed up into a mask of hideous anguish, arms splaying out at all angles in a textbook example of how not to run; he crossed the line a good 30 seconds behind the leaders.  I was in stitches, laughing madly.

My near hysteria, contiguously and somehow organically spread to those around me only abated slightly when, for a brief moment, I felt certain he would die from his efforts.  Once it became clear that he would live to lose another day, and that we weren’t dancing on anyone’s grave, our merriment continued.  Needless to say, my cough hadn’t gotten any better.

The meet continued and about 20 minutes after the mile races finished, we were dismayed to find out that we had to stay for the Open 5k; a fun run designed to give soccer moms, washed up and inevitably shirtless old men, and anyone with 20 bucks and a pair of Sauconys a chance to make like Jim Ryun.  Certain that we were going to have to sit through a glorified, geriatric race-walk, no one paid attention as the gun went on.

As is the case with most 5k races, the pack thinned out rather quickly after the start of the race as each runner settled into their own pace.  With mild disinterest I glanced down at the track.

“What in the hell?!?!”  I very nearly shouted it.  My mind was reeling, spinning into a collapse like some human black hole.  “Look down there,” I cried to anyone who would listen.  “He’s going for a 3-peat!”

Down on the track, horse-teeth glinting in the pale glow of the stadium lights, arms flailing like a chicken in its death throes was an inglorious sight.  It was him.  Again.  He was dragging ass through his third distance race in a little over an hour.

Sco-Jo was irrationally angry, feeling that the man we dubbed “3-Peat” was slandering the good name of college track and field.  Garcia thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen, bellowing forth laughter in between wheezes.  I filled in everyone around us about the historically moronic attempt we were witnessing and 3-Peat fever spread amongst the team.  We weren’t entirely sure, but at some point we believed that the race standings, shown on the big screen TV, had 3-Peat listed as first.  This rumor, now widely thought to be untrue, was greeted by overzealous cheers and too-loud applause from our section.

3-peat was a mess.  He was routinely blow past by 40-year-old mothers and pack-a-day smokers wearing basketball shoes alike.  He staggered along, hunched over like a woman in labor on her way to the emergency room, pain on his face visible even from the upper decks of the stadium.  I can’t speak for the others, but I felt a very palpable sense of dread that 3-Peat was going to crap his skimpies.

At some point, and I’m not sure how, we lost 3-Peat in the commotion.  He must’ve somehow slipped off the track and disappeared.  Perhaps a coma, or the sweet call of a local Adidas outfitter, lured him off the track that night and away from his attempt at glory.  A day later, as I was perusing the KU Relays photography page I found a picture of 3-Peat from the 5K fun run.  Leaning forward precariously, his eyes narrow slits of pain, he was clutching his side as though prison-shanked in the kidneys.  While being passed by a smiling, 40-year-old woman, waving to her friends in the crowd.  He looked like he was just finishing up the homestretch of the Trail of Tears.

Regardless of where he went, or how we managed to not see his finish, we were all on cloud nine.  I had laughed so hard that my face hurt and not even my poor showing on the track could dampen my spirits.  As we headed towards the team vans, idiotic grins plastered on many a face, I was so lost in thought that I nearly bumped into someone on my way out of the stadium.  Thinking nothing of it, I continued walking into the parking lot.

I noticed a group of three girls ducking behind cars, moving quickly and speaking in hushed tones; crouching low as the slid from vehicle to vehicle.  It was clear that they were trying to avoid detection and I paused, wondering if they were hiding from someone or merely a group of tweenage car thieves who had seen one too many “Fast and Furious” movies.  It quickly became clear that the former was clear.  I found myself wondering who, or what, could be so terrifying that it could drive a group of teenage girls to hide in a dirty parking lot at dusk.

“Come on,” one girl whispered to the others.  “Hurry up before he sees us.”  They seemed genuinely terrified.  I prepared to step forward and make sure they were okay, but moments before I could a voice ran out in the night.

“What up, ladiiiiiiieeeeesssss?!?!”  Apparently they’d been found.  The voice calling to them sounded like some foul, and seemingly impossible, combination of one of the Ying Yang Twins and Forrest Gump.

“Crap,” said another of the girls, her voice waving a verbal white flag of surrender.

I turned to see who these innocent young girls were hiding from and again found myself in a state of utter shock.  My breath simply ceased to exist.  In a vacuum of surprise, no air could be had and my mind exploded into a humming blankness.  I’m sure you know by now who it was.

“Yo, ladiiiiiiiiiiiieees!”  He shouted again.  Dragging out the last syllable like some ridiculous Andrew Dice Clay disciple.  He strutted past me, scrawny chest puffed out, still clad in his Daisy Duke-sized shorts and those gag-inducing armbands.  He was as un-suave as is humanly possible.  Freddy Krueger has more sex appeal than 3-Peat did that night.

I watched as he was universally, swiftly, and unequivocally rejected by each and every girl then I sprinted to the team van and informed everyone of what I just seen.

I couldn’t believe all that I had seen.  I had somehow slipped into the “Twilight Zone: Morons Edition” or some alternate reality where everything seemed to be spun wildly on its head.  The day one tally for 3-Peat stood as such.  1 Hour, 3 Races, 0 Wins, utterly rejected by young girls, Ass: utterly and completely whipped.

The next day I was scheduled to compete in the 4xMile relay race.  I had never done a relay race of that distance and had never competed at the college level on such a big stage.  3-Peat was, therefore, the last thing on my mind as I entered the stadium for day two of the Kansas Relays.  The legend of 5-Peat was far from over.  In fact, it was just beginning.

To Be Continued. . .

  1. Sue Tolles says:

    loved it, can’t wait for part 2

  2. madhat says:

    I don’t know if I should “pity the poor fool”, say “more power to him” for trying, be embarrassed that so many were laughing at him and wish he’d have the good grace to get off the track and disappear, or what – it all seems so ludicrous. He certainly couldn’t be ignored in such an outlandish get-up… I’m curious as to how it all turns out and how I feel at the end.

  3. Lynette Rotolo says:

    Please don’t make me wait for part 2 to see what happens. Love your work.

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