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The Underdog



In March of 1987, it was a Wednesday morning at about ten o’clock, I was off from work. My doctor said he’d meet me in a gym. I had a ten mile race on that Saturday, March 14th, down in Atlantic City. I had been suffering with back pain that crippled me after a ten mile race a prep-race in Lynn, Massachusetts just about ten days before. I expected to race well then; but ran into some trouble as I slid on ice going down a hill. A man grabbed me as I was sliding headfirst into a tree. I ended up finishing a disappointing 4th place female and the birth defect no one knew I had reared its ugly head, once again. I drove home in agony for nearly four hours.

During the week, one of my bosses saw how crippled I looked as I walked by his office doorway. He inquired. He then suggested I see his doctor. So, I did. I explained to the doctor, ‘I was trying to run through this. I’ve hurt my back many times before. I was told never to run again 18 months ago. Just go have babies…’ I explained to him, that ‘…right now my husband and I are focused for another year or so on careers and building equity’. The doctor understood. Then again on Monday after work. We met again on Wednesday. I hadn’t ran in five days, as ordered by him. As well, I was having a hec of a time of doing so, when I had the first week after the Lynn race. The pain shot through me upon placing my right foot on the ground. I was peaking in my running getting ready to qualify for the 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials.

So, the second Wednesday after the Lynn Ten mile race. The doctor had me come into a gym to see if I could race four days later that Saturday in Atlantic City. I really was in doubt. My not quite twenty-five years old body had, had it.  I felt weak, riddled with pain. Pain that I’d dealt with before. Pain that had stopped me the year before for near seven weeks. Not able to do anything but go to work. The thirty to forty minute drive to work was a tearful event. And at times worse when there would be an accident on our notorious Route 3 going towards Manhattan.

So here I was, lacking confidence although now the pain had gone down to near zero. I could still hear it calling my name. The old pain echoing through my body. As well, at the same time received the news that two of my closest relatives were dying. All at once it seemed. Everything, except my three year marriage and my ability to be employed was sinking into the deep abyss with a feeling of no way out. My pain became spiritual. The physical was discarded, when I knew others had been and were suffering. Basically, I was a mess. People would ask how I was. I’d nod. Smile. Not say much. I was losing two family members at the same time, so it did seem. I revealed this to this doctor before I got on the treadmill. As well, he wanted me to not see the time, nor the pace, nor the distance of the treadmill he’d put me on to run. He wanted to see where I was at. He told me so. He draped a huge towel over the entire treadmill panel. Had me facing on one of treadmills that had no clocks to either side, nor in front of me. I would run until he told me to stop. Yet, here I hadn’t ran in five days. And I hadn’t ran without pain in eleven days total.

He pressed the buttons. I’d never been on a treadmill before. Then it began.  I began a slow jog.  He pressed a few more buttons, draped the towels over the panel. Said, “I’ll be back. Stop if it hurts.” And he walked away. Music in the gym played in the background. It was the first time I’d ever been training in what we consider the mainstay of gyms nowadays with weights, machines and the like. I never had the money. And running was cheap. Running long-distance was for the poor people. It was for people who only wanted to live and be outside, no matter the weather.

Time passed as I broke a sweat and felt good. I feared running too hard. For if I did and I was actually somewhat healed I could ruin my race on Saturday. Soon the doctor came back. And before he lifted up the draped towel he asked, “How long you think you’ve been on here?” I laughed as I continued to run. Thinking that was a weird question. Like how would I have known? Do I have a clock in my head or something? I replied, “Well, that’s silly.” He nodded. I continued, “You want me to guess?”  He responded, “Yes.” I replied, “Oh, Um… like forty minutes and thirty six seconds. How’s that?” He then responded, “How far do you think you went?” I replied, “How about six point two miles.” The doctor took the draped towel off the panel. The panel showed six point two miles, and forty minutes and forty seconds. He added, “I guess, you know your body. And I think you can race Saturday.” And so, driving was the pain.  But once I started warming up that Saturday the pain dissipated from the near three hour drive. The wind whipped, no clouds appeared in the sky. I asked God to help me put my emotions aside.

I had only a short time to warm up in the thirty degree temperatures, the wind made it feel as if in the teens at times. I got stares as I lined up with the men. Another woman was favored to win.  She appeared to give a sneer to me. You sneered me… It’s on. You just pissed me off. I love being the underdog. The gun fired. We were off. I tried to hang to Mike Patterson. So, did a few other men. As Mike took off pulling us through a ridiculous low five minute plus mile, the wind battered us. Within a mile and a half. I smartly tucked in behind two men. They knew I was sitting there. I asked, “You think we can get him?” One to my front left replied, “You sound good. And you’re still with us.” I asked, “Do you mind?” The other replied, “It’s okay.” I reply, “Thanks. But how will I know I’ll beat all the women?” The one to my left replied, “You’ll see when we loop. We’ll do that more than once.  So, you’ll see then.” I reply, “Okay good.” The three of us settled in for the next bunch of miles.

Finally, at around mile six I was all alone. I passed the big elephant at six miles I rolled through at the pace I aimed for ten miles I was at thirty four minutes and forty-nine seconds. I knew my sub-sixty minute ten miler was now possible. I’d never gotten under sixty one minutes for ten miles.  Yet, the wind could impede such a pace. It was strong enough at times to knock me over. And that I knew it actually had happened to a man in a previous race.  Soon, I knew no one was close to me. No man, no woman. There were three men ahead of me. I knew Mike had won, handily.  Soo, I saw the finish and realized with would be close for under sixty minutes. I finished in sixty minutes and twelve seconds. A tad disappointed. But minutes later after I’d finished and went to do a cool down run. The second woman finished. The Sneerer was ten minutes behind me. She was none too happy. Yes, she had the cheering section. The buddies, the friends to support her. She definitely had college in her. She was a cutie. But she was not happy.  Versus I was elated. I could not wait to get home and call the doctor with the good news. Needless to say, an hour later as I drove home north, the pain hit hard. Yet, it brought back the fact of my losing two relatives. And soon I would mourn the loss of one sooner rather than later.---Jody-Lynn Reicher

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