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Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Passion and Paradox - Understanding A Lost Love

By Harry Cummins

     The year I turned forty, fit and fanciful, was the same year I fell hopelessly in love.

     My mid-life romance was absorbed into that peculiar juxtaposition of pain and pleasure known as the mile run.   As a miler at middle-age, I had suddenly became one of life's more pronounced captives of time.

      Held hostage by hope and the promises on some distant stop-watch, I would dream of moments when the contours and contradictions of my imperfect life would come together on that final, perfect straightaway.   A reward for fidelity... for keeping the faith.  A garland for the thistled steadfastness of my daily training.  A bit of glory, I imagined, for those rubbery-legged repetitions that sought to proportion speed and strength in just the right mix.

     No matter what our ages or our particular passions, are not such moments our fondest hopes?  For John Walker, his 1975 crossing of the 3:50 threshold must have been the moment - that fleeting exposure to the outer limits of human experience.

     As I write this, today marks the anniversary of that historic May evening in 1954 on Oxford's Iffley Road track when Roger Banister became the first man to break 4 minutes in the mile.  Years later, he describes a paradox he eventually would discover:

     "I was resting on billowing white clouds that would, I thought then, always protect me from the worst of life's buffeting." 

     As I round the curves of advancing age myself, I have come to understand Bannister's words regarding all athletic achievements in life.  Or all achievement for that matter.  More often than not, such pursuits of perfection do illuminate our existence and are worthy of pursuit.  But the reality is that these self-absorbed moments don't always protect us, and sport, of course, must never be mistaken as finally sufficient in itself. 

    Today, carrying the unwanted weight of indulgence and a series of surgical setbacks, I am no longer a runner.  For the longest time, my passion for the sport had persisted and shaped who I became.  But I am no longer in love.

     I have come to realize that it can be a hostile world, four minutes to a mile and fourscore years to a lifetime.  We all need traveling companions other than our own thoughts, to carry us thru. 

     So many of our passions in this life dissolve with the passing of time.  But there is a kind of love that still endures. A kind of love that  "Beareth all things, beliveth all things, hopeth all things."

     It is with memory intact, and what remains from a lifetime of understanding, that I now venture out of my house into this global pandemic aftermath.

      In aspiration, perhaps I still remain on a starting line.  Torso tipped slightly forward, ready to push off on one foot.......  into a new fascination and fury.

     Love is still in the air.

-- In 1983, the author competed in the first ever Invitational 5th Avenue Masters Mile in New York City. He finished 4th in a time of 4:33.  He also met John Walker, who ran much faster.