The Olympics always give me cause to resurrect a personal memory of accomplishment. I don’t believe I’ve ever shared the story so publicly, but I trust our relationship enough to feel you’ll grant me an indulgence to … hmm, OK … to brag a little bit.
Ever since my parents surprised me after school one day in the third grade with a baseball glove and the announcement I’d been enrolled in Little League baseball (note the fact this was my first glove and read into it I had absolutely no baseball experience), I loved competing in sports.
The truth is, I was never much good. I still recall a running, leaping (and lucky) catch I made once while playing right field. I remember the one-and-only extra-base hit I got, a double. But I also remember when our Major League team, the Warriors, won our division and finished runners-up in the city championship tournament. A great contributor, I wasn’t, but I was still part of the team.
Other great teams followed. Our high school football team my senior year was state-ranked. Our baseball team my junior year won the regional championship, as far as we could go in those days.
But my greatest individual athletic achievement came in the spring of my junior year. Someone came up with the idea to compete in the Explorer Olympics. In fact, an Explorer post was organized primarily for that purpose. Fort Hood hosted the statewide event for Texas and several of us participated.
Remember, I had no particularly impressive athletic skills, but I felt some level of competence in many areas. So, naturally, I entered the decathlon.
In the real Olympics and most other world-class competitions, the decathlon – which consists of each athlete competing in 10 different events – is spread over two days. The Explorer Olympics, however, was happening solely on Saturday. Ten events in one day.
As things began getting under way, I saw many talented athletes and began to fear just what I’d gotten myself into. However, when our decathletes were assembled, I found there were only eight of us and, apparently, the others were more like me – capable but not great.
Times and distances have slipped from memory, but I still recall how I placed in each event. The sprinting events were all mine, winning the 100-yard dash, the 220, the 440 and the 180-yard low hurdles. I also won the discus throw rather easily as I was the only one with a clue about how to throw the thing. I finished second in the shot put and pole vault, third in the long jump and tied for fourth in the high jump.
Under a canopy at the track, a chalk board held the point totals for the events. The final competition for the decathlon was the 880-yard run. In the other running events, they had been placing us first and then the others. We were all so beat by the end of the day, someone managed to change the order to allow us a little more time to rest before the most challenging race.
Meanwhile, I carefully examined the leader board. Only two guys had a chance of taking the lead away from me and I developed a plan.
At the start of the half-mile race, I dashed into the lead and set up in the inside lane so I had some control over who passed me. After we completed the second turn, one guy started around me. He was not one of those who could beat me in the point totals, so I maintained my steady pace. On the backstretch of lap two, another passed me and I continued holding back, saving my energy.
As we came out of the last curve toward the finish line, I heard the yelling of the crowd of servicemen and athletes. At that point, I gave it all I had and sprinted to my third-place finish and the gold-colored medal. I still have no idea how close the others were to me.
The winner of the Olympic decathlon is traditionally known as the world’s greatest athlete. Now, I guarantee you, I was under no illusion such comparison applied to my win, but it still felt oh-so good.
Sunday morning, to close out the competition, all of the medalists assembled for a victory march around the track to receive awards from what I understood to be the base commander. The decathletes led the procession. The Fort Hood band played “March of the Olympians.” People cheered.
I mounted the center platform and bent down so some general could hang the medal around my neck – a gold-colored disc on a red-white-and-blue ribbon.
Over the PA system, it was announced: “Winner of the decathlon, Dave Martaindale.”
Really? Dave? Or maybe it was Mike. I don’t remember, but it certainly wasn’t Steve.
Back to reality.