- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Is the water very cold?"
"I was getting hot anyway."
"Oh, you poor thing!"
I surveyed the faces beaming down above me—I saw several cameras raised, aimed and lowered—and thought, this is not what I had bargained for. Instant self-discovery. The humbling variety. Just add water.
Somehow I managed to fumble my skis off, wade back to the bank, climb into my skis and get started again. My sweater had stretched to the size of a tent and my hat had floated downstream. On my back, I estimated, were 10 souvenir pounds of river.
The crowd on the embankment, suitably entertained, gave me what sounded like an encouraging send-off as I shuffled on. I stopped, turned and gave the crowd a deep bow. That was it. That was our last exchange. I never knowingly saw any of them again, and no one I ever met thereafter who had watched the race told me that he or she had seen my accident.
But then, though I've told this story on myself many times among friends, I've never really searched that hard for the witnesses.
Of the rest of the race, well, the day turned warmer than the weatherman had predicted; I was two waxes off—carrying purple in my pocket when I should have had yellow—and I slipped backward slightly with every forward step I took. But then, so did most everybody. From a blimp, the last five miles of the race must have looked like something Napoleonic.
And yet, at ground level, we were each of us in a private dance whose source and meaning transcended the mere timed crossing of a finish line. It was enough to be there. That's what the river taught me.
My time, one hour and 58 minutes, was 72 minutes off the winning pace. I was very nearly last. I tried not to let it bother me. In fact, to prove my utter indifference to this lame performance, I let 10 years elapse before deciding to race again. I'm still not sure whom I thought I was kidding.