MR. AMERICA

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Brian Forsyth is favored by fortune to find the perfect person to prepare him for his toughest test . . . including the running of five miles of killer hills; and that special person is an older,wiser and more delightful former Mr. America.

Submitted: August 02, 2016

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Submitted: August 02, 2016

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MR. AMERICA

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran 

 

“It’s the hills, Clancy, the killer hills; why am I doing all this upper body stuff?”

 

It was half way through a cold, rainy October when Brian Forsyth found Clancy Ross at his Mr. America club in Shepherd’s Creek. 

Brian had googled Clancy and there he was: Clarence Ross, Mr. America, 1945.

Brian was preparing to train very hard for the Boston marathon in April.

Forsyth was a long lanky guy who still smoked a pack of cigarettes a day; but only if he had run twenty miles before nightfall.

He had read in Runner’s World that if you ran one mile for each smoked cigarette, you would be just fine; no physical repercussions.

In fact, Brian had called the ‘Running Doctor,’ Doctor Ralph Meerschaum in Red Bank, New Jersey, to ask the running health guru if he really had to quit.

Doctor Ralph gave him the good advice: if you would become tenser and create higher blood pressure along with a litany of other physical setbacks, then smoke.

The doctor ran every weekend with a group of guys who would top off the their twelve-mile run with a large stogie.

After a thorough rumination of the guru’s advice, Brian had taken close care to align his mileage with his smokes; or vice versa.

 

Three days after his thirty-first birthday, during his annual physical, he told his personal doctor, Doctor Neil Weston of his talk with Doctor Ralph.

Doctor Weston told him flatly that smoking was a very, very bad idea; especially for a runner; and extra-specially for someone about to run a marathon.

“But,” asked Brian with a slight tremor in his voice, “never again doctor; how can I do that?”

Calmly, with barely a pause in his scoping, “think about it—you’ll never be twelve again.”

Brian slumped for a moment.

The stethoscope was buried in his stomach and he uttered a moan that could be interpreted as:

you’re absolutely right doctor’ or ‘screw that.’

 

After leaving Dr. Weston’s office, Brian rooted around in his thoughts for anything he could do to juice up his preparations for the upcoming race.

His first decision was to double his mileage for each cigarette.

Next, he decided to reread that unusual article in the Globe; one where the main topic was: building strength through weight training.

The subject of the article was about some odd duck named Mike, who jumped off cliffs, bridges, and such—as some feat of strength and toughness.

Mike had been training at Clancy’s place.

Brian thought that even though marathoning was not quite as bizarre as jumping off high places, he did know that his legs needed to become stronger and he correctly concluded that if anyone had strong legs it would be body builders and weight lifters.

Other than this obvious conclusion, he basically had no idea of what to do at a weight-lifting place; a regular gym, yes; a weight-lifting gym, no. 

 

Clancy was now in his late sixties but as vibrant as a teenager. 

He had retained all his hair and most of his muscle but a hip was bothering him and forced him to limp slightly. However the twinkle never left his eyes and Brian never saw him so much as scowl. A person of joy.

Clancy gave Brian a sidelong glance when Brian told him why he wanted to join.

Clancy followed up with a deep merry laugh while he surveyed the very tall skinny dude who wanted to run over twenty-six miles . . . for fun . . . !

“And,” added Brian, “around mile sixteen, there are hills; miles of them, with five miles of the worst, ending with the biggest one, called Heartbreak Hill.”

The more Brian told Clancy about the race, the more Clancy smiled and occasionally, chuckled. 

However, it was a great smile; a smile of understanding and encouragement; and a chuckle of warmth and kindness.

 

From that first day and every day thereafter, when Brian went to the club, Clancy would break out that smile, followed by a warm chortle, and a group of strengthening sets that he thought would help Brian, and told him to ‘get to work’.

Brian did.

When Clancy introduced Brian to a number of sets concentrating on upper body strength, Brian was so enthralled with his progress to date, as well as still trying to believe that he was training under the wing of a real Mr. America, that he instantly adopted Clancy’s program without question.

Of course, Brian didn’t say anything when Clancy started him on the upper body training. He unquestioningly added the new sets to all the sets for his quads, calves and ankles.

Brian inhaled deeply and set to work.

I don’t see the logic of it, but what the hell do I know?

By January, Brian could feel the amazing increase in his leg strength, but he just had to ask Clancy, at least once, why he was doing the upper body reps.

Clancy had expected this question from that first day in December, when he had given Brian the upper body sets.

“Well, Brian, movement is more than simply plowing ahead with your legs; you have to exercise all those muscles that don’t stop at the top of your legs, but go all the way up your body—especially your back,” pausing to break out a wide smile, “and you’ll feel stronger too, and that will help you mentally.”

 

Brian trained with Clancy right up to three days before the marathon and then flew to Boston on Sunday.

Race day in Hopkinton was thirty-eight degrees and drizzling.

Brian talked to himself all the way to the mid-point at Wellesley, where fair maidens furnished water and rousing cries of challenge; and rallying cries to attack the last half of the course.

After Wellesley, Brian could feel the anticipation of the hills beginning to invade his body.

He had followed all the rules of running a good marathon and now—the hills. After that, downhill and flat all the way to the finish at Copley Square.

When Brian reached the sixteen-mile mark, he made a right turn into the thick of the hundreds of thousands of people who come out every year to cheer on the runners.

Then came the hills.

The crowds were deepening; their roars of cheering were deafening.

At the beginning of the five miles of killer hills, the ‘road’ becomes a mere ten to fifteen foot-wide channel.

Layers of people shout encouragement to every single one of the thousands of runners.

Brian was wearing his Clancy Ross Mr. America Club singlet and as the cheering swelled, cries of “go Clancy!”  and “hit those hills Mr. America!” thundered all around him.

Suddenly, Brian felt the almost hysterical scene of the thousands of waving, cheering, roaring mob of well-wishers—disappear.

He entered a quiet placid zone; merely a point on the road; in the state; in the country—in the world.

He felt as though he was slightly above and to one side of himself, watching his movement, his stride, his posture. His back straight and strong; his arms moved in perfect rhythm with his strides; his entire body was leaning into the hill while he pumped his legs with a shorter stride; all those areas of muscles and tendons that Clancy had promised—even guaranteed, would power him through the hills.

His inner peace was so complete that amidst the vocal chaos, he could hear his own breathing.

He could sense his body propelling him forward. He felt comfortably alone.

Then Brian realized that in some aberrant reality, he was not really all alone, because before him, facing him, dancing in his vision through the drizzle, was Clancy.

“Okay, Brian, now’s your time; here’s where I come in; here’s where all those hours; all that sweat makes a difference.”

Then he smiled and was gone.

Brian felt as though he drew in a greater amount of air before saying aloud: “Okay Clancy, do your stuff!”

He smiled; and slipped into overdrive.

 

Brian later related that he thought he was running alone on a narrow trail through the park.

He felt his body adjusting its position to give him the most drive up the hills.

And did Clancy ever do ‘his stuff’! Clancy had combined all his experience, his knowledge and his kindness into his mojo.

Despite the drizzle, the chill, the temperature and those hills, Brian ran his best marathon time.

However, even more amazingly, he ran the fastest five miles of any race—of any length—of his entire running career, in those five miles of killer hills.

 

Several years later, at Clancy's funeral, anyone among the hundreds of mourners was encouraged to share any special moments that they had enjoyed with Mr. America.

Brian spoke of his times with Clancy; Clancy’s wit and smile and merry laughter as well as his endless willingness to share his knowledge and experience.

Brian concluded with: “what a guy. An unforgettable man of great wisdom, kindness and understanding. I am so proud to have known him: I consider myself immensely better for the time I spent with Clancy Ross, my great friend, my personal, special Mr. America.”


© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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