I ran track in highschool. I was terrible. It didn’t particularly bother me that I was terrible because I didn’t join the team in order to excell. I joined the track team because everybody else did. My parents have a photograph of me running in a track meet in the first grade. The photo shows me very small in the upper left corner of the image coming in last place. I’m wearing a pair of bell bottom jeans and my bowl cut hair flops above me while the winner of the event, a girl named Sharlyn who years later became my very best friend, is featured largely in the foreground leaping across the finish line with a pony tail, a huge smile and a pair of proper 80′s running shorts.*
My feet came out kind of weird at my birth. They say that one should never talk about medical conditions because it isn’t interesting and I bet this is true. A hundred years earlier I wouldn’t have been running at all, but 20th century medicine and physical therapy made my feet look and function pretty much like regular feet, with only occasional pains or mystery issues. At a certain point in middle school I noticed that my ankles often had dark stains on them, and that under the stains were permanent callouses. The callouses were something I had noticed before and accepted as an oddity of my body but the appearance of stains seemed beyond the bounds of a physiological quirk. The stains appeared when I wore dress shoes, the type which one buffs with shoe polish. A doctor concluded that when I walked my foot would roll over on my arch so far that it brushed against the shoe on the opposite foot and picked up the stain, and that if the shoe had no color the contact only resulted in toughened skin. Having a person of authority sleuth out the fairly obvious physics of the situation was comforting. Possessing a body is a lot of responsibility and holding it up against the daily drag of gravity can be a lonely prospect.
In the basement of my highschool, next to the gym, there was a physical training room. It was kind of a hidden location, something of a secret location in the school, and I only came across it because of pain that I experienced related to the weirdness in my feet. I was sent there to get my ankles taped up before practice in the hope that it would keep my feet in proper alignment when I ran. I remember there was a small medical-looking hottub, which someone told me was for hydrotherapy. I never saw anyone get into the tub. The room was run, as I understood, by a few girls from school who had somehow gotten the positions of being physical trainers. That’s what I am remembering their title to be, and I could be recalling this incorrectly. I definitely remember that the self appointed leader of the group of trainers was a girl named Christina. She was one in a series of complicated and intimidating Christina’s I’d encountered through adolescence. Not pretty, but confident. She had a short ponytail and bangs and what I remember as a very french type of face. I can imagine her having gone on to become a dominatrix.
The physical trainers were frequently to be found treating runners for shin splints. I don’t know what shin splints are. I know that they were a dreaded fate of runners on the track team. The treatment for shin splints practiced by Christina and the others was: a) to ice the muscle running down the front of the shin with cubes of ice rubbed directly onto the skin, and b) to apply pressure through the thumbs in an attempt to pop air bubbles that were forming within the shin muscle, sliding up the leg from the ankle in a motion that kind of resembled waxing a surfboard. They spent a lot of time doing this to runners’ legs, particularly male runners, and they seemed very intent that this would cure shin splints. I didn’t know if I had shin splints, but I worried that I might. I let the trainers do the bubble-popping procedure on me. They had so much passion for their work, staring intently at the leg as they leaned their bodyweight into it. They talked a lot about their methods as they practiced them. “You have to pop the bubbes.” “Did they pop yet?” They believed so strongly in their ability to help people.
At some point I mentioned to the coach that Christina had treated me for shin splints. When I told him about how she was popping the bubbles in my shin muscles his response was like, “Whaaaa??” The coach had no idea what was going on in the physical training room. Christina’s medical regimen was apparentlly not sacntioned by the athletic staff. She was leading a sort of cult down in the physical training room and runners were happily lining up for her treatments and one of those runners was me.