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Texas A&M's powerful relay forces showed up for the California Relays in Modesto last weekend, but they were limping badly, and the Mills brothers figured that the collection of watches they had amassed back in Lufkin wouldn't be increased for a while. For one thing, Rockie Woods was out with a pulled hamstring and had been left in Texas. "And," said Assistant Coach Ted Nelson, "you don't lose a 9.3 sprinter off your 440 and 880 teams and not feel it." Too, Curtis Mills would be running with two large knots in his left thigh, and brother Marvin couldn't decide if he felt lousy because of a recent attack of food poisoning or from just plain exhaustion. "Otherwise," said Nelson, "we're in pretty good shape. I wonder how the fishing is out here?"
And so on Saturday morning the brothers stretched out on their motel beds and planned the day's strategy. "Let's just stay in bed," said Marvin. They thought about that for a while. "No," said Curtis at last, "let's run the 440. It'll be over so fast we won't even know we're hurting. And the 880." He sat up in bed. "Hey, maybe we can still win it. I know we can. They give great watches here, too. Let's win the 880."
"O.K.," said Marvin, settling that. "Now what about the mile?"
"Aw," said Curtis, "we'll worry about that when we get to it."
And that's just the way it went, of course. They ran the 440, and it was over fast, and if they were hurting it was because they finished third behind Texas at El Paso and UCLA. It was the first time this season Texas A&M had put both Mills brothers in a relay and lost.
The Aggies had won 20 straight with them. Multiply two times 20 and you can see that there are a lot of unwound watches in Lufkin. Next year the multiplication table jumps to the threes. Brother Wayne will join the act after a year of fattening his grades at a junior college. And then there's Lester and Ester, the fastest 15-year-old twin brother and sister act in Texas.
"She claims she's faster than the brothers," says Coach Charlie Thomas. "But they won't run against her, so we'll never know."
The closest Ester gets to competition is in the role of official starter for a series of match races between Curtis and Marvin over 150 yards in the street in front of their house. The series started about a year ago, when Curtis came back from the NCAA championships with a world record in the 440. Marvin was a 17-year-old senior in high school, Curtis a 20-year-old sophomore at A&M.
"I suppose you think you're pretty fast?" said Marvin after dinner on the night of Curtis' triumphant return. Curtis grinned at him. He had talked Marvin out of the band and into track, and he knew what the next move would be. "You can't even beat me," said Marvin. "Oh, yeah?" said Curtis. "Yeah," said Marvin. "Let's go out in the street. Hundred and fifty yards." They went out in the street and measured off the distance. Ester stepped in as starter as the neighbors flocked to watch.
"Allez-vous zup," she said.