Many stories don't play out in a linear way. There are twists, turns and blurry lines that only become clear in hindsight.
This is one of those stories, so bear with me.
I should begin on an April night in 1976, when Chris Fox ran 9:01 for two miles on the Westminster High School track. Alone the entire race, there was nothing to push him except his own ambition.
I watched, clutching the fence railing on the edge of the track, mesmerized.
My world was a small place at the time, confined by the limits I placed on myself. Fox awakened my curiosity and allowed me to dream about my own potential.
Bill Hursey was a South Carroll classmate. We weren't close friends, but Bill was the kind of person I trusted. He had an air of acceptance about him, so a shy kid like me could relax around a guy like him.
Much of my life is covered in the haze of distant memory, but I remember high school pretty well. I didn't realize that I was just like everyone else, trying hard to fit in at a time when no one felt completely comfortable.
Running allowed me to be myself. That was partly because I was around other kids who ran, but also because I could test myself without the fear of judgment.
Mary Lynn Schwaab joined our cross country team when I was a junior. We were alike in many ways, both reserved in most situations, but not when we were running.
Most of life's changes are gradual as we slowly drift from one phase of life to another. Leaving high school isn't like that. One day, I was a part of a community, dysfunctional as it was, and the next day I was on my own.
I don't have to recount my running history here. Let me just say that the years that followed were filled with events that still guide me today.
You could say that my life eventually became ordinary — career, marriage, kids — by no life is really ordinary.
I was eventually led back to high school running when my daughter joined the Winters Mill cross country team. The experience felt familiar, as I ran from place to place cheering for her during the cross country races.
I became reacquainted with Bill and Mary Lynn in 2005. They had married years before, and their daughter, Katie, was running track for the first time as a sophomore at North Carroll.
Katie Hursey was an exceptional youth swimmer, but that was her first attempt at running seriously. She became an instant superstar.
I had a chance to write some cross country workouts for Katie while she was at North Carroll, but it was her talent and work ethic that made her great. She became a Maryland state champion in both cross country and track before heading off to Syracuse University.
Chris Fox, having gone on to become an All-American at Auburn University and race at an international level, became the head cross country and track coach for Syracuse in 2005. Katie Hursey left Carroll County to run for him, and set school records in the outdoor 3,000-meter steeplechase and the indoor 5,000 run.
After graduating from Syracuse, Katie turned her attention to the triathlon, and quickly became an international star. She married Tommy Zaferes, another elite triathlete, and spends her days crafting her best potential.
Now, she's at the Rio Olympic Games, waiting to swim, bike, and run with the best athletes in the world.
People tend to like things that are easy. We want easy money. We wait for easy answers. Easy sounds nice, but it never lives up to the hype.
Fortunately for me, I was influenced by people like Chris, Bill, and Mary Lynn, who all showed me in their individual way that life is better when you decide to challenge yourself.
It's fun for me to know that Katie Zaferes has been touched by these same three influences, and now it is Katie herself inspiring me.
When you watch her race in Rio, don't think of it as a snapshot in time. Understand that Katie has traveled a hard journey to get there, facing all the same challenges you and I face. She's dealt with poor circumstance, unfortunate situations and personal doubt, overcoming all of that to find herself on the world's greatest stage.
Then, perhaps she can arouse a spark in you, and you can become another link in this long, disjointed, and glorious story.
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