The Sweetest Victories Are Not Always the Fastest

May 28, 2012

Thank you to Pat Crandall for submitting his Most Memorable Mile.

The scene was stark, a sandy field behind a barracks at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. I had just finished my sophomore year as a midshipman of the small Stanford University Naval ROTC Unit. That summer we were sent to Corpus to undergo Aviation Indoctrination, i.e., to see if we had what it took to be Navy Flight Officers. 

Part of the training included a final mile race in our fatigues and combat boots in the blazing noon-day sun. A boy from Ohio State had been non-stop bragging on how much tougher his unit was than ours, and how he was going to prove it with a victory in the mile. He had run the steeplechase for OSU.

I was chosen to defend my unit's honor, for I too had just finished a season on the track team, but alas, I was a 440-yard intermediate hurdler, not exactly the distance type. 

At the gun (yes, a REAL gun) he was off in what seemed a hellish pace. A half-mile course had been staked out on the field and by the middle of the first lap, he was already 40 yards up on me. The sand was loose in many spots and the footing tenuous, adding to the futility of my quest. I figured my only hope was to somehow out-kick him at the end with my superior top-end speed.  But, that entailed actually being close enough to have a chance. 

At the half-way point I saw him (now 60 yards ahead) look back at me and laugh. I staggered a step or two for effect and it was at that moment that I knew I had him. With 200 yards to go and down only 30 yards, I sprinted. He wasn't looking back and I gained rapidly, up on my toes at full sprint, making very little sound.

He saw me too late, as I flashed by him with 10 yards to spare as the Gunny Sergeant counted out the time: 5 minutes, four, five, six . . .  It may not have been a headlines-inducing race or time, but it was the sweetest victory of my life.

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