He stood outside, an outsider looking through the cold, gray, twisted fence. The men’s Long Beach Cross Country team sat waiting for orders among the casual joggers churning their one-hundred and twenty second clockwise quarters trying to speed up time: becoming someone different. As always, there would be round, determined women with crimson flushed faces and quivering knees envisioning bikinis, sandy beaches, drinking Sex On the Beach, tennis with white-toothed males, and dancing under the moonlight. Men of various conditions and girth accompany these women in search of such realities.
The young man stared having no idea what he was going to do now that it was all over. His own running days had been demanding, always taking and never giving: a lifestyle of continual sacrifice with rewards few and far between. Being apart of an elite fraternity where the only purpose in life was to run, jump, and throw incredible distances.
Picking up the fiber of a non-athletic life seemed like a daunting task; however, he was not alone. There were many others across the country currently doing what he was doing right now: recording gains and losses.
There was nothing to look forward to, but for some reason he had to start here. The sound of voices and footsteps thrust him back into the present. The men’s team was heading toward Blair Field, subtle acknowledgments exchanged silently between both parties, a mutual understanding of their different social standings. He watched them vanish behind the bridge, only their voices betraying their presence.
Aimlessly, he turned around taking in the fall of Southern California. Leaves would be changing to autumn shades of red, yellow, orange, and browns elsewhere but the hot breath of summer still lingered here. Picking up his Asics Long Beach Track and Field bag, he walked through the gate, counter clockwise on the track towards the starting post. The joggers paid no attention to the young man in street clothes and he did the same. They would always be here: religious joggers with only the faintest appreciation of what happens here.
It looked the same as it did four months ago, the same as a four hundred meter track will always look to one who knows every step of a quarter mile. The warm smell and worn polyurethane surface brought him back. The smell and sight brought his mind back to those workouts that pushed his body beyond its physical limit. Back to when the track would become a reservoir for time-honored sweat, back to September and October, the months of promises.
He put his bag down next to the high jump pit, walking to the starting line; his gaze wandering down the track to make sure no one was coming. He stood in lane one. Casual joggers still trying to hurry Father Time glancing curiously as he stared down at his sandals trying to rekindle that feeling. A trace of it came back and he knew that’s all it would be.
“You can remember it, but you can’t experience it like this…”
He thought back to when the opportunity for athletic scholarships flowed freely and thought with a grin that the shadows would be sufficient.