Thursday, April 9, 2009

Super Steve

Rink Clay Schmitty
Moving back to Lawrence, Kansas at 14 years of age was like being reborn. Growing up in Abilene was a fantastic experience. It was everything you dream of small town America being. But by the time you've hit adolescence, growing up in a community where everybody pretty much knows everybody else can be a drag.

So my running career resumed at South Junior High under Coach Ralph Wedd. Disciplinarian wouldn't even begin to describe Coach Wedd. He was a frightening, menacing man, who told me I couldn't be a great runner without learning to run on my toes. So I spent that winter learning to run up on my toes. I had a measure of success that spring, winning a couple of races and setting a school record in the mile. But the training was ridiculous compared to what I had done the previous fall at Abilene High School

The formula called for plenty of interval training. I got intervals in Abilene and more intervals when I moved to Lawrence. I can remember running intervals the first day of cross country practice for Steve Sublett. Super Steve or "Coach Roach" as we liked to teasingly call him. Coach Sublett was a gregarious man. He would look me over at the beginning of a workout and say, "Rinkenbaugh, I've seen better bodies in a morgue." I could understand, being 5 foot 10 inches and all of 125 pounds.

We worked hard but we were never very good. It's not to say that Coach Sublett wasn't a good coach. He had a handful of great runners like Kent McDonald and Doug Peterson during his tenure at Lawrence High. But he wasn't a screamer or authoritarian in any way. He wanted us to develop a lifelong passion for running. For that I thank him. He also talked me into running heel toe as God had meant me to. Amazingly the week I went back to my old way of running I dropped my two mile PR by 32 seconds from 10:21.0 to 9:49.5 my sophomore year in high school.
Part of my problem during high school is that I worried more about beating my teammates than I did about beating competitors at the other schools. I just worried about being #1, the top dog. It really wasn't conducive to good training or good racing. I was too young, too stupid, and too immature to grasp what running and competing was all about.

I enjoyed some success. I went to state. I beat some quality runners during my three years at LHS, and after good sophomore and junior years of track I was looking forward to great things going into my senior year. I had enjoyed a great summer of training. I was lucky because two of my training partners were outstanding runners.

Kent McDonald was an All American at Kansas in the steeplechase. He finished second in the nation at the AAU nationals in 1975 and ran at the 1976 Olympic Trials. Kent still holds the KU school record in the steeple. Heck, Kent still has the Lawrence High 2 mile/3200 meter record.

Like Kent, Doug Schreve was a Lawrence High grad who attended Pittsburg State. Doug was an outstanding miler, running the metric equavilent of a 4:06 mile in college. Between the two of them, I'd get worked over like a rented mule.

But my dreams of senior success came crashing down due in part because of one workout. I was in great shape and it was the week before our first meet. I had picked up a minor stomach virus the weekend before that meet and went to Monday's practice just completely whipped. I warmed up and told Super Steve I wasn't up for the practice, our toughest to date, consisting of 20 quarters. After much begging and cajoling from coach to run just one quarter I did. I felt like complete crap but after a little more coach begging to do just one more I consented and ran one more quarter.

Suddenly I felt like a world beater and breezed through the rest of the workout without a thought. I remember the feeling I had to this day. I felt great, ran great, and pulverized a lot of my teammates. By the end I was exhausted but proud of getting through the grueling workout. That night after dinner the wheels came off. I became deathly ill. I ran a fever, wheezed, coughed, and missed three days of school.

I went back to class on Friday feeling less than stellar but knowing we had a meet that day and knowing full well I was the favorite to win. So on a cool, damp, September afternoon I ran a cross country race in Manhattan, Kansas. I led for the first mile and suddenly it was if there was nothing left in the tank. I faded over the final mile finishing 13th.

Now for some reason Super Steve had decided that this year we would run back to back meets. So on Saturday morning we headed off to Wamego, where the year before I had finished 3rd. We had never run back to back meets. It's really insane. It was a repeat of Friday's performance. I led through the mile and slowly faded and finished 13th.
I felt like crap and by that night I was sick again.

I had picked up a nasty lung infection with stayed with me for the next five months. The doctors could never figure it out. I can remember running and spitting up blood. It seemed like every time I tried to start getting miles in my lungs would seize up. I didn't start to feel like myself until late spring of the following year.

By then my conditioning was suspect and my attitude was worse. It's embarrassing now to think of how full of self-pity I was at the time. I simply wasn't mature enough to pull myself up by the bootstraps and do the kind of mileage I needed to do to rebuild my strength.

The dreams of a scholarship to run at a four year college were gone. Despite the disappointments, my love of running remained. And I was determined to give it one more go at the University of Kansas.

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