October 22nd…“WHAT IS THE FARTHEST DISTANCE YOU EVER RAN OR WALKED?”
There are gazelles who bound gracefully and effortlessly across the plains of the Serengeti in Africa. Our local “gazelle”, at Battle Ground High School in Battle Ground, Washington, wore our “Tiger” colors of black and orange. Unlike the relatively level plains of the Serengeti, our “gazelle”, Keith Anderson, was raised on his family’s 300 acre mountain hillsides near Yacolt, Washington. Keith’s passion was running and that’s exactly what he did, year in and year out, up and down those steep slopes of those forested hills.
“Andy” Anderson was an inspiration to us all! Not only did he possess a buoyant smile and sparkling personality in daily life at school, but he dazzled everyone at Track Meets and at Cross Country race venues. For instance, during Track Meets, at our District Stadium, Keith would start out with “the pack”. At the firing of the starting pistol, the mile run (four times around the school’s oval track) began. At the end of the third lap, when the majority of “the pack” of runners were showing distinct signs of exhaustion, “Andy” would burst out of “the pack” and leave everyone else ‘in his dust’ as he turned on the jets in his legs and left all the huffers and puffers behind. There he was, breaking the ribbon and finishing First Place by sometimes as much as a half lap, or more. His fellow “Tigers” in the Stadium Grandstand would go wild with cheering to see our hometown “gazelle” race to the front and bring home the gold once again. You see, after running the hills of his family’s hilly property near Yacolt, Washington, running on flat land was a “piece of cake” for Keith Anderson. Keith went on to win First Place in the Washington State Cross Country competition two years in a row for our school!!! “Andy” exemplified the Bible verse from Hebrews 12:1, that says, “…..And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Keith Anderson inspired me to want to try Cross Country, but he was just one of the great young men on the Cross Country Team at Battle Ground High School. Phil Kooken and Tom DeVilliers were very kind to this underclassman and invited me to experience what Cross Country running was all about.
As a 10th Grade Sophomore in High School that year, I unknowingly resembled the very definition of the word sophomore………”a person who is self-assured and opinionated, but crude and immature”. That fit me to a “T”. I was too self-confident and opinionated that I could carry out what I had seen others do in Cross Country running. My crudeness and immaturity showed up in the fact that I was not yet conditioned for running any type of long distance…..at all. Phil, Tom, Clyde Cooper and others had made running look so easy as they’d glide over long distances with smooth and steady strides.
It was a crisp, fall afternoon after school one day when Tom, Phil and myself emerged from the west door of our school’s locker room. As we did a number of stretching exercises, I could see our “Tiger” Grandstand and football field nearby. It had just been completed the year we arrived in town back in 1967. “O.K., let’s go.”, said Phil Kooken, and we three musketeers began to jog to the west and off our school grounds heading for what was then known as “Wayside Market”. The fall sunshine was beginning to wane in the distance as we reached NE 112th Avenue (where the old Wayside Market used to stand) and turned our running appendages to the north. For a novice, I thought I was holding out fairly well upon my “shank’s horses” (old term for your legs), but my huffin’ and puffin’ was becoming more pronounced. Phil and Tom, conditioned veterans that they were, were still carrying on unbroken conversations and checking on this green-horn at the same time.
As we approached the half point turn, I’m beginning to muse, “What the HECK am I doing here?!?” My teenage heart is pounding like a trip hammer inside my heaving rib cage that is gasping for more oxygen to fuel this strenuous endeavor. As the three of us padded around the natural bend in the road that took us now to the east, I was faced with the stark reality that this pimple-faced harrier wannabe was not cut out for this form of a foot race. Too far in to quit, I plodded on the best I could as we made another right turn and headed south on what was known then as the Lewisville Highway. With my two upperclassmen championing the lead, this lil wheezer was doin’ his darndest to just stay alive and moving them thar legs.
Even though we were slogging our way back towards the High School campus now, I was beyond exhaustion as I looked down at my legs pounding away on the pavement below me and realized that I could no longer “feel” them. It was like looking at someone else’s legs that had been attached to my body when I wasn’t looking!!! Spooky!! Finally, thank Heaven, we were veering off the Lewisville Highway and down the slope back into the High School property.
Our total mileage for that run was maybe about 3 miles or so. And, for a seasoned Cross Country runner, that was just a “snack” to chew on when you consider the long miles of a real competition. For me though, who was only used to doing a run of a mile a day in Physical Education classes, the run I had just completed was exponentially gigantic…….to me, at least.
My walk home from school that evening was a challenge in and of itself. My legs felt like wobbly rubber and I was exhausted to the point of appearing “drunk” as I tried to command this spent body of mine to walk the three blocks to our home on the north side of town. Collapsing in bed after supper, I was “out like a light”. Needless to say, the next morning, I could hardly move!! Every joint and muscle in my young body ached to a crescendo of pain I hadn’t experienced before. It was all I could do to get dressed and slowly drag myself to another day of school.
To this day, over half a century later, I still have great respect and inspiration from those dear souls who have the ability to run for long distances in Track or Cross Country. The fact was cemented in my psyche that day, though, that CROSS Country made my body CROSS for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son 😉