In the spring semester of my senior year at Northwestern State College, I decided to enter the intramural cross country race one more time.
For three years, I had finished among the top five. But I had never finished first in the cross country run or any other individual athletic competition.
I knew I was not in as good condition as I had been the other three years. I was the editor of the school newspaper, The Current Sauce, in my senior year, and was no longer the manager of the basketball team. My most strenuous exercise that year had been typing term papers for classmates. I had not played in pick-up basketball games, as I had often done in previous years.
There had usually been a “ringer” or two in previous intramural cross country races. Members of the track and field team were not eligible, but the previous year a transfer who was sitting out a year to become eligible (he would’ve been the fastest half-miler on the team if he had been eligible) was the intramural cross country champion.
There were no “ringers” in 1957. I took the lead early, and held it. As we passed what we then called “Vets Town,” where married students and some faculty members lived, Robert Payne, one of my Sociology professors, shouted, “That’s the spirit!” as he was walking into his home.
Predictably, I was tiring near the end of the race. Looking behind me, I saw Ken Terwey, a varsity swimmer, about 10 yards behind me, and gaining. I knew he had been swimming a mile or more every day, and would be stronger at the end of the race
I was approaching the natatorium, with an incline of about 50 yards before a “Y” in the road. The right fork led to the football stadium; the left fork led to the Men’s Gymnasium and finish line.
Usually, I would take it easy going up the “hill” and sprint the final 200 yards to the Men’s Gym. But this time, I decided to sprint up the hill as if the finish line was at the top, hoping to open up a bigger lead. To my amazement, I was able to continue the sprint to the finish line, and won the race easily.
My head was tilted back and my mouth was wide open throughout those last 200 yards, much like Eric Liddell in the movie “Chariots of Fire.” But I had one thing that Liddell didn’t have in the movie — a string of saliva about five yards long flying behind me.
The experience left a strange taste in my mouth, one I had not experienced before on an individual basis. In more than 50 years since that experience, I have seen others experience the thrill of victory and agony of defeat many times. But this time, for once, I was a winner.
Winning the intramural cross country run doesn’t compare with winning the Super Bowl, but winning anything is much better than winning nothing.
In 1935, the year I was born, Billy Brown of Baker became Louisiana’s first 23-foot long jumper. A year later, he set a state record of 24-2 that stood until my junior year at Northwestern State, when Don Troutman of Class C Roanoke jumped 24-11.
That record stood until Donald Robins of Destrehan jumped 25-2 in 1972. Troy Twilley of Slidell raised the state record to 26-0 in 1994. We’re still waiting for the second member of the 26-foot club to come along.
Richard Smith of Evangel led the state two years in a row with 25-2 in 1998 and 24-8 in 1999. Another Shreveporter, Southwood’s Frankie Gatson, led the state two years in a row with 25-2 in 2003 and 24-11 in 2004.
Jerry Byrd is the former sports editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune and an award-winning columnist. You can contact him by E-mail at email@example.com