I’ve never considered myself an athlete, and most would agree. As a kid, I did, however, possess an unique set of skills, that, while they never won any awards, occasionally come in handy. I could balance on a beam without too much wobbling. In baseball, I could steal bases with impunity. Most unique, however, was my ability to run backwards.
I’m not sure where I picked it up (or even why), but I liked running backwards. I could maintain a straight line and keep my balance while outrunning pretty much any kid in the neighborhood. I was even faster running backwards than some kids were running foreward.
Now, there wasn’t much call for this particular skill. There were no local competitions, and there certainly was never an Olympic Gold Medal for someone who could run away while looking at you, but I took some quiet pride in an ability which most kids didn’t have.
The worst part of having this ability was that I was cocky about it. I would challenge my brother or his friends all the time, and beat them handily, despite them being older, bigger and faster (going the right way). When I’d win a race and crow over my victory, the older kids would take that as an opportunity to ditch the bratty competitor.
In high school, I played in the pep band at basketball games. After every game, we’d go from the gym back inside the high school to put away our instruments. I’d carry my trombone inside, accompanied by my brother and his friends, who we’d go out with afterwards to drive around, try to impress girls, or just hang out at the local Burger King.
After one game, my brother Jim bragged that I could outrun any challenger backwards. I had long since stopped challenging others to races, but when Jim lined up in the hallway, I got in position, ready to dust him off once again. His friend Brad lined up in front of us as the starter, and said,
“On your mark…Get set….GO!”
Jim jumped out to an early lead, but as he kept looking over his shoulder to gauge his position, I just looked down at the lines in the tiles and churned ahead. If I followed the line, I didn’t need to waste time looking behind me. I cruised to an easy victory.
Jim didn’t want to settle for losing, so he said, “Let’s go again!” I smiled to myself, knowing that I could take him just as easily. Brand chimed in – “I bet I can beat you!” I shifted over to let Brad set up between us, and planned to follow the line again, adjusting for my new position.
Once again, Brad counted off – “On your mark…get set…Go!” Jim again got out to an early lead, but I was neck and neck with Brad as I picked up steam. As we neared the designated finish line, I was confident of another easy win.
What I DIDN’T take into account, however, was that right before the bookstore door finish line was the school’s indoor pool entrance, which had a wall that jutted out into the hallway, right into my path.
I hit the corner of the wall at full speed, and my head snapped back into the corner. Chunks of plaster flew out of the wall, and I was flung foward onto the hallway floor. I was able to break my fall with my hands, but my head REALLY hurt, and I lay on the floor, dazed.
“Are you OK?” Jim looked down at me.
“Man, that looks nasty”, Brad chimed in. It didn’t help.
I held my head, and when I removed my hand, I could see that I had a cut on the back of my head from the blood on my hands. Jim piped up with the most logical suggestion.
“We better get you to the emergency room.”
I sat in the back of Jim’s green 1971 Ford Maverick, grimacing with every bump in the road. I held my head and loudly sang along with the radio to keep my mind off of how much it hurt. Jim pulled up to the ER doorway, and Brad led me to get signed in. While a paramedic was able to clean off the cut and give me an injection to numb the area, it took more than an hour for the doctor to show up to sew up the cut. In the meantime, I got to listen to someone in the next bed howl about how drunk they were.
Once I got stitched up and sent home, I considered myself lucky that I wasn’t hurt worse. I also decided to stick to races where everybody was facing the right way.
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