As a former cross country coach, I enjoy watching people run, and I do it with a critical eye. “Oh-oh! This gentleman is supinating and will not last another mile at that pace.”

Sometimes I will pick up my own walking pace to try to find out if I am in fact right, and when I am, well, I drop off to the side and buy myself a cup of coffee.

It was always interesting to me that the high school kids I was coaching would clock better times while running on the beach than on grass. Why? I don’t know, but I suspect it might be that the sheer exhilaration of running barefooted at the beach provides an aquatic high.

The kids at Baldwin High on the Hawaiian Island of Maui did well in the state meet, probably due in part to that one fun day a week when they would be ferried down to Maalaea to run three miles on the beach. We had a gifted boys’ runner who did in fact take first place in the state meet, though I confess it bruised my ego when he was asked in an interview what his coach had told him before the race, and he told the truth, “Coach Layne told me to, ‘Make like a duck and honk.’”

Some years later I was on a Hawaiian Airlines flight to a neighboring island when the flight attendant taking drink orders surprised me with, “You don’t recognize me do you.”

I looked at her real hard and confessed, “No, I’m sorry, but I don’t.”

She took my order, smiled a broad smile, and proffered, “I was on your cross country team, coach!”

Well, here she was, all grown-up, a beautiful flight attendant with earrings and lipstick; how was I going to know her?

Fast forwarding 40 years, yesterday, on my walk home from the wreck center here in the idyllic village of Incline, I was lucky enough to stumble across a district cross country meet. There must have been 50 hard-charging high school girls, one of whom was way, way, far, far behind. Of course, I waited to cheer her on. She was overweight, and honestly, did not look like she could run three miles without walking, much less compete in a district meet. She smiled at me as I cheered her on, and as she passed slowly by my eyes welled-up with tears, not tears of sympathy, mind you, but tears of admiration.

She was brave, and the way she smiled … wow. I knew instinctively, as an antiquated cross country coach, that that young lady, with her determination and constancy to purpose, will become a caring doctor or caring social worker or caring cop, and she will be the best doctor, social worker or cop in the great state of Nevada. In fact, I’ll bet you $1 to a donut that she will.

McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at GhostofTwain.com.

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