The Value of a Hero


     We were broadcasting the National Scholastic Indoor Track & Field Championships for ESPN from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.  It was Sunday, March 11, 1990.  Though we had known one another for many years as reporter – athlete, the 1990 National Scholastic meet was the first time I found myself working alongside Olympic Marathon gold medal winner Frank Shorter professionally.  

    During one of the breaks in our coverage we began to discus the news of the day, primarily how the Lithuanian parliament was poised to secede from the Soviet Union, which would mark the first break from Moscow by a Baltic state forcibly annexed in 1940, and be the first independence vote of any kind in the 68 year history of the Soviet state.  The questions we, and many others, had was how far would the 1989 revolution extend, how would America play it, and what shape would the world eventually take?

     As action picked up once again on the track far below in the cavernous dome, Frank and I turned our attention to the boy’s two mile race.

     “Frank, what was your high school best at two miles,” I inquired on air.

     “9:38,” he replied, recalling his days at Northfield Mount Hermon Academy in Massachusetts class of `65.

     A few minutes later after the race had wound down, an eager faced young man approached our broadcast location from the stands below.  Looking up, he tentatively said, “Mr. Shorter?”

     Occasionally prickly with his peers, Frank was always at his best with young athletes.  And amidst the ensuing conversation it came out that this particular young man had come to the Carrier Dome to watch the meet, because he’d just missed qualifying for the nationals himself.

     “I only ran 9:36,” he told Shorter dejectedly, explaining how hard he’d tried to make the standard. 

     “You know,” Frank replied, “that’s two seconds faster than my high school PR.”

     The kid’s eyes opened even wider.

     “9:38?  You mean I might not be finished yet?”

     The world may change, invariably growing smaller.  Times may change, invariably getting faster.  But the incentives to achieve remain constant, not the least of which is the encouragement from the heroes who have come before.


One thought on “The Value of a Hero

  1. Ironic, and a little depressing, that one day after receiving this blog I got the following email blast from the San Diego Track Club:

    Dear SDTC Member,

    Bill Rodgers is coming to Road Runner Sports from 4 to 7 p.m. this Friday, and San Diego Track Club Members are invited to stop by to meet the legendary runner during a rare appearance in San Diego.

    For those newer to running, “Boston Billy” was among the best runners in the world in the 1970s when he won both the Boston and New York City marathons four times between 1975 and 1980. He also made the 1976 U.S. Olympic team and finished 40th in the marathon. His chances of competing again four years later were dashed when the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics to protest the U.S.S.R. invasion of Afghanistan.

    Bill will have plenty of books and posters on hand to sell and sign. Bring your camera and bring your friends!

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