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Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Great Race

There are some moments in an entire lifetime that are lit up by a flash of spontaneity and delight that leave them with you forever. This is a snapshot of one of those for me.

I’m guessing it was 1958. That was the year the red-headed Carolyn Young from Calliope State School won the state championship in the 100 yards sprint in Brisbane. Her picture was in the sporting section of the Courier Mail, the only real Queensland newspaper as far as Queenslanders of any political persuasion were concerned - not that there was any competition in the 50s.

I can still remember how that photo caught her at the finish, with her one knee tightly bent and the other leg straight, in iconic sprint position, hands raised high as she went over the line. She must have been aged 12 at the most. Calliope got a mention as her place of origin, which pleased us as we had rarely seen our township mentioned in a state newspaper before. We bathed in reflected glory.

It was end-of-year breaking up day for the school – perhaps the best day of the year for most of us, when our parents came to the school and we had softdrinks, sandwiches, watermelons, icecream in a paper tub, and novelty races where you could win up to two shillings and everyone in the race got something. Not only that, there was a glorious six weeks of holidays, including Christmas, ahead of us.

As a tribute to her victory, Carolyn was asked to dress up in her racing shorts, the sleeveless top and her racing sprigs and do a lap of honour on the day. She was a modest girl but arrived as requested dressed up like a circus pony in all her gear.

Then someone, I don’t know who, suggested a match race instead of the circuit of honour on the sports field, or maybe in addition to it. Another someone had a great idea – why not match her against my father? He was regarded as a slick sprinter as a kid and had been clocked manually at 10.8 seconds for the 100 yards at some competition or other.

I almost fell over when he agreed to it. He was at some disadvantage, as he would have been about 43 at that time, hadn’t sprinted in quite a while, and would be running barefoot in his long trousers, as wide legged at the generous cuff as the length of his bare foot. Carolyn would be running in her sprigs (spiked running shoes) and even had her starting blocks in the car, but it was decided she should do a standing start like my father.

If there’d been a starting gun it would have been used, but ‘Ready Set Go’ did the job just fine. Carolyn got a lightning start and flew out ahead, but Dad had tenacity and tough feet. The picture I have is her vivid red hair streaming out behind her when she was in full sail, and Dad running her down, trouser legs and cuffs flapping madly in the wind, and passing her in the final moments of the race. It was a great spectacle.

The Great Race
Illustration by Watto

Dad complained bitterly for the next few days of the soreness in his entire body, especially his calves and thighs. He might have won, but he surely paid a price for it!

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