Although some names have been changed, the following events are real.
In January 1993 the Huntington Beach High School boys' track team, which I coached, organized a community track meet as a fund-raiser. We ended up having more workers than competitors, and rain was nearly the sole occupant of the bleachers lining our ancient brick-dust track. Of the few athletes who showed to compete, one runner caught my eye. His rail-thin body reminded me of a Kenyan runner's; he looked like a champion. He appeared old enough to be in high school, but I didn't recognize him and figured him to be a junior-high runner. Always on the lookout for future athletes, I wanted to find out more. But rules governing our sport prohibited me from speaking to potential athletes until they had graduated from the eighth grade. To circumvent this, I asked one of my runners, Erich Phinizy, to investigate. "Find out his age and where he goes to school," I said. "And tell him about our program."
Erich returned with valuable information. The runner was in junior high and would be attending Huntington Beach next year. He also informed me that our future runner was of English descent. Erich pointed to the only two people sitting in the bleachers and said, "Those are his parents."
Damn, not England, I thought. They're a bunch of soccer freaks. I hoped he wouldn't be like a former English runner of mine, who once remarked, "What's the purpose of running if there's no ball to kick along the way?"
Although the soccer coach and I were close friends, we often competed for the same athletes, as soccer players are often runners and vice versa. Each of us ran a quality program, coaching our athletes year-round.
"So, Erich, what's his name?"
"Oh, I didn't get that, Coach. Sorry."
"Don't worry about it."
The possibility of this kid's running for our team excited me, especially since he had come to race the three-mile, an unusually long distance for a 13-year-old. I scanned the entry list and saw, unfortunately, that there were only two other runners in his race. One was a 60-year-old jogger, and the other was Erich. Eager to assess the kid's talent, I asked Erich to pace him. "Run alo