Gary Roseman, Professor of English, Retired, Decatur Campus
Somewhere around high noon, give or take a few minutes and on sunny, dry days, several of us who taught at the South Campus would go out for a run. Maybe it was a jog, on a course of approximately 3 miles which, for some reason or another, we jokingly referred to as 3-mile island, an allusion to the infamous nuclear power plant accident in Pennsylvania. What the correlation was between the Pennsylvania incident and the South Campus running course I’ll never know. Apparently it was just something that popped into one of the individual’s head as a ready reference to our jogging route.
We would gather in the coach’s locker room and change into our running apparel which included baggy shorts, stinky t-shirts left to dry in the locker from the run the day before, old socks and, of course, what purported to be running shoes. Sometimes these “running shoes” looked more like Army issue brogans than the sleek Nike shoes we now expect to see runners wearing. One must remember, however, that this was in the mid-70s, long before running or jogging had become a fashionable, high-end sport.
The course along which we ran began in the parking lot, behind the gym and out to Clifton Springs Road. We ran up the hill, past the stadium, and turned left on Wildcat Road. The steep descent on entering Wildcat Road was welcome for it allowed us to sort of coast down, although we fully realized we would have to climb that same hill on our route back to our starting point. Wildcat Road made a sharp right at the bottom of the hill and extended in a straight, level stretch for nearly a mile until it dead-ended at the caretaker’s house who helped manage this area which also included programs which were run by the state and county agricultural agencies. Horses and cows grazed in the fields along the way which also included a hog pen where the inhabitants, like the horses and cows, paid us little attention. Mourning doves made their presence known with their distinctive calls and we, on occasion, no doubt trying to relieve our minds from the tedium of pounding the pavement, would attempt to mimic their calls, thinking they would respond. Occasionally a snake would slither across the road ahead of us, no doubt in a hurry to escape being trampled by the advancing hordes. A truly rural setting in the confines of a rapidly growing metropolitan area.
Bob Abshire would usually lead the way, stepping out front as we made our way up the first hill on Clifton Springs. He was followed, running in tandem, by Chuck Croneberger and me and then, on various runs which might include Fred Hill, Steve Swink, and Ron Swofford. This running club was usually constant being made up of the aforementioned members and occasionally a “guest” who might accompany us from time to time.
On our way back, in the home stretch, we would try to pick up the pace. Or at least we thought we were picking it up. Not bad, however, for a bunch of late thirty-somethings, sneaking up on forty. Cardiac Hill, as we called it, took
its toll on our running time. I was reminded of the Vaughn Monroe ballad “their face was gaunt, their eyes were blurred and shirts all soaked with sweat.” We were running hard to get to the top but we were not there yet. Breathing became labored, talking came in gasps, still no one wanted to admit he had just about had it. So on we went, breathing like “stuck hogs.” As if on cue, one of us would pull up limping, that look of agony unmistakable to us fellow-travelers. In deference to our injured colleague, we would all slow our pace to encourage his being able to finish and without being left way behind.
As we made the turn back into the parking lot behind the gym, talking happily now that the run was nearly over, suddenly the runner who had pulled a muscle or otherwise had suffered bodily harm, seemed to be jogging, running normally once more, as if something like a minor healing miracle had occurred. We would inquire, nonetheless, how his leg felt, and wishing him well for our next run.
On a recent visit to this same area, I now note that in the place of horses, cows, pigs, snakes and the occasional fox there are fancy new houses, a large elementary school, and a definite absence of trees. Alone, I jogged this route once again. It was not the same, nor could it ever be. But I could hear above the din of the school buses as they roared by the encouraging call from one of those joggers, “Come on, Roseman, you can make it. Just a quarter mile to go.” And as in days long past, I was happy to return to Decatur Campus.