Dave Griffin Essay

Karsten Shultz and Mike Sheely came sprinting off the final turn of the Westminster High School track together, just like everyone expected.

The two seniors were running the mile at the 1978 Class AA Maryland State Track and Field Meet.  Most of the roaring crowd was rooting for Shultz, who was running on his home track.  Sheely ran for Kenwood.

Both runners were high school All-Americans, both former Maryland state champions.  Both were superhuman in the eyes of almost every other high school runner.

Whenever either Shultz or Sheely stepped onto a starting line, everyone expected them to win.  The weight of those expectations must have been heavy in the minutes before the race started.  And so, they drove each other from the gun, running at a pace faster than they had ever run before.

By the time they entered the final lap, the entire stadium was spellbound in the performance.  No one was aware of another single thing happening in the world.

And as they came off the final turn, side by side, both runners were resolute.

More than forty years distant, I’m a man amazed by the speed of time.   I know how quickly time passes, and yet I’m continually surprised by the swift flow of the months and years.  How is it then, that fifteen seconds of race in 1978 still moves in slow motion?

The crowd was deafening, but neither Shultz nor Sheely heard a sound.  Their minds and bodies were both absorbed in a solitary task, driving their bodies to an agonizing yet brilliant place.

It’s always difficult to tell which is the first to surrender – a runner’s body or a runner’s mind.  Whichever it was in this case, just twenty yards shy of the finish line, Shultz felt Sheely break.  Those who saw remember a smile rising on Shultz’s face.

But it was short lived.

What the crowd could see, that the two runners couldn’t, was Wayne Morris.  Morris, a junior from Laurel High School, had been running close behind.

He had no business being there.  His fastest race times were too slow to be considered a threat to the two favorites.  And yet, at some point in the passing of laps, Morris chose to be courageous, and he stayed in the race.

No one was more surprised than Shultz when Morris edged passed him.  Shultz’s first thought was that Sheely had regained his stride, and it wasn’t until after he had crossed the line that he recognized the victor.

I’ve thought about that race a lot over the years.  Partly because it is arguably the greatest high school race ever to be run in the state of Maryland.  Morris ran 4:10.9, Shultz 4:11.1, and Sheely 4:11.7 for the mile.

But my fascination has more to do with the struggle that took place on that final straight.  In the span of just over four minutes, three young men defined fortitude for the rest of us.

Before the start, Shultz and Sheely understood the ferocity with which they would have to race.  They both courageously stepped onto the starting line knowing they could lose even if they ran their best race.  Morris knew his chances were slim.  All three chose to give their best effort despite their fears.

I suppose any one of us would like to have been in their racing shoes that night.  Who wouldn’t want to run with such gallantry?  Who wouldn’t want to mesmerize a crowd?

But those questions are not as simple as they seem.  We should all know this, because we have imagined doing great things, and we know how it hurts when we realize that a dream is out of reach.

Where we differ is in how we deal with all of that.

Some choose to cower, afraid to dream for fear of uncertainty.  Some dream, and then choose self-sabotage, because making excuses is easy and failure hits hard.

And then there are those who choose to bare their soul to the hazards of a challenge, who have learned that it is the pursuit that enriches a life, and that outcome matters less than the impassioned charge.

This is true because we are not here to collect trophies.  We are not born to die with a list of accomplishments.

We are here to raise our spirits to a noble place by living our lives in harmony with our values.  Courage, discipline, and perseverance are virtues we all aspire to advance.

And so, as you decide what to do with this day, and with all the days ahead, remember how you live is a choice, not prearranged.  And only after you choose to step on a starting line can you run your greatest race.