Peter the Nimble

Things at Chez Montreuil are coming together nicely, so this week, I am going back to revisit some of the stranger events of my track career. As I was thinking through my memories, these three came front and centre. so here they are.

As a teenage track athlete, I sought to express my uniqueness and my originality, (at least when I ran). Now at that time there were a number of world class track athletes who put their own personal stamp on their appearance when they competed. One of these fine people was (is) Doctor Delano Meriwether, a qualified medical doctor and a record holding sprinter. He wore, as part of his warmup attire on at least one occasion, sweats and a top hat, IIRC.

Well, if I couldn’t run as fast as him a), I could at least look a bit like him. As the only “Top Hat” in Orillia was a pool hall b), I decided to obtain a chapeau which looked a little less flashy. So it came to pass that I left Zellers on Main Street with a rather nondescript red hat perched on my noggin. I grinned like an idiot as I entered the ancestral home on Franklin Street I loved this hat, my parents were noncommittal about it and I had at least one sibling who hated it with a passion.

The morning of a track meet, I would get ready, grab my gym bag and my hat and make my way to school, generally through the auspices of Mr Holloway, who was not only my Latin teacher but my friend. He was a great guy. (I can still hear him quieting a class by simply saying “I hate talking to myself.”) I would be excused from class on the day of the meet, so I would go to the boy’s gym and “gird my loins for battle”. Clad in my sweats, my spikes dangling from my left hand and the whole look topped off by my red hat, I must have presented quite the sight as I then walked across the parking lot to the track area.

No fanfare accompanied my progress, no lithesome classmates raced up to steal a kiss from this valiant warrior c) as I reached the comforting cluster of my teammates. We discussed events so far that day, commiserated where necessary and congratulated those who had met with success.

At length my event was at hand. I crossed the track, passing the cheering stands, hearing faint cries of encouragement. As I arrived at the “inner sanctum”, “the holy of holies” I remember hearing no real discernable noise, just a background drone. I stretched, then sat on the grass and took my sweatpants off, followed by my running shoes d). Spikes on, sweatshirt off, hat back on. I then paced like a caged tiger waiting for the starter’s gun. The last thing I did before going to the start line was to lay my hat reverentially on top of my sweats, to await my return, albeit it generally not a triumphant return, however.

For 2 seasons my red hat and I were inseparable on the track circuit. One evening, however, our relationship ended. I had worn it to go uptown, (something I normally didn’t do, as an aside), had taken it off for half an hour and found it to be missing when I finished my errand. To this day I have wondered how my sibling who hated it knew that I was donating blood at St Paul’s that night.

I did purchase a similar pale blue hat to replace it, but things just never were the same.

The second “purloined” piece of track clothing was a white tank top which had a dark blue diagonal stripe across the chest, with “Orillia” in white block lettering emblazoned on it. I wore that top when competing both for ODC&VI and for the Orillia Track Club. I entrusted my long suffering mother to “take good care of my baby” when she washed it along with the other 600 pounds of laundry our family seemed to produce e) every week. This top possessed a charmed life, cleaving to me even after graduation from high school. It survived “the great purge”, when most of my stuff got thrown out once I had fled the nest f). It followed me into marriage. I loved it and wore it around the apartment. My wife tried to disguise her loathing for it. One Saturday its luck ran out. I wore it to my wife’s parents’ house for the afternoon, cheerfully oblivious to the murderous looks it generated. The next morning, suitably refreshed after an over refreshed afternoon with the “holier than thous” g), I went to put it on. Alas, it had vanished. My wife professed her innocence as to its current whereabouts, but I always wondered why she forbade me to go near the garbage can in the back yard.

Finally, I was fairly active in high school, so my picture appeared a fair bit in “The Oricolle“, the yearbook of my “alma mater” h). There are two candid shots of note over the years, and I will discuss one of these now. This picture was taken at the start line. There are four people in the foreground, in focus. From left to right, they are the starter, my teammate Lawrence i), Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy and a guy from Midland who ran track and played basketball, had a French surname (Lalonde??) and whose father owned a roofing company j) . Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy is staring at the track, in a pensive mood. He is not wearing his glasses.

I had read about streamlined swim suits for world class swimmers, and so l thought about what I could do to reduce my personal parasitic drag. Shaving my head was off the table. I had no idea what horrid shape my misshapen pate would be, and in any case, Dad had told my brothers and I that as long as we kept it clean, we could grow our hair as long as we wanted k) . However, I could divest myself of my glasses, which would speed me up tremendously. I mean, I was just running in a circle. What could go wrong? So on the day in question, before going to the start line, I handed my “cheaters” to a very trusted teammate, who promptly took my elbow and stretched his arm over my shoulder. In a solicitous tone, he told me that the track was “over there”. I bit back an acerbic response when I realized that he was joking. The race?? I got carried home on my shield again, but stayed on track by following the noise of the thundering herd in front of me.

As a result of this tactical innovation, I had slashed about .000000024 seconds off my previous best time, but it took me 15 minutes to find the guy with my glasses.

So I come to the end of yet another opus. My columns on my athletic endeavours will rarely feature instances of me saving the day, for few and far between were those events. I prefer to reflect on the lessons learned and the friends made and the obstacles overcome. For example, I was by no means a top flight athlete. Yet my position and those of the other hewers of wood and toters of water was treated with just as much respect as the stars were. I have never forgotten that lesson, which I would state as “It’s not the result, it’s the effort that matters in the end.” Sage words for a scary time.

See you soon

Mouse consultant; CoCo the Cat

  1. a) Nyuk Nyuk
  2. b) I remember this name as clearly as a bell, although I have been unable to find any reference to it 50 years later.
  3. c) In my dreams.
  4. d) At my first race, I had put on my spikes BEFORE taking off my sweatpants. Great idea, except I proceeded to snag my sweats on my spikes, which damned near overloaded my “teenage angst-meter”.
  5. e) Shortly thereafter I was out somewhere when one of a group of women asked me if my mother worked. My flippant reply that no, she was a housewife led to me getting an impromptu, but none the less very spirited, lecture about the errors inherent in my holding onto that particular mindset. Yet another well instilled lesson. (At least I hadn’t said that she was “just” a housewife.)
  6. f) At least they didn’t change the locks 😉 .
  7. g) Guess who.
  8. h) In my Grade XIII edition, they spelled my surname 5 different ways.
  9. i) This seemingly insignificant fact tells me that the event is the 880 yard run, as both Lawrence and I ran in that event together.
  10. j) Again, why do I remember that yet have to look down to see if I am wearing a tee shirt?
  11. k) One of my classmates said that my long hair must really “piss off” my father. When I told him the story, he asked if they would consider adopting. I pointed out that they already had 8 kids.

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