With several weeks of running in the tank, it was time for the team Intrasquad meet. Everyone knew it was coming because the course was marked out by the loyal campus groundskeeper. There was just one problem. He was a bit cross-eyed. The first mile of the line marking the course on the massive intramural field sometimes turned out wavy.
That wavy line got some interesting attention in other years. I recall standing at the start of the Luther All-American Invitational a few seasons later. The teams were all lined up, and an Augustana runner looked ahead at the curvy white line crossing the IM field and asked, “What the hell?”
I looked over at him, smiled, and said, “Just run straight. That’s our groundskeeper. He can’t see right.”
As the Intrasquad approached, I was feeling good about my prospects of making the Top 7. But the Thursday evening before the Saturday race, I began to run a temperature. Sweat covered my body and nausea caught up with me. I had the flu. It was bad.
I struggled over to the Student Health Center and checked in with the nurse. She plopped me in a room with a bedpan and a couple thick sheets to wait it out. It was Friday evening by then, and I could hear the college kids ramming around campus getting ready to have fun that night. All I could think about in those moments was trying not to throw up again. The more I thought about not throwing up, the more I threw up. That is the yin and yang of the flu.
Clearly, I was going to be in bad shape and probably miss the Intrasquad race. Something in me still thought it might be possible to run, but a long Friday night passed and I asked the nurse to pass along word to Coach Kent Finanger that I was out of commission. He likely knew that already, since I’d missed practice Friday afternoon.
That night in the health center was filled with a delirious reaction to the fever. I dreamed that I was back at the farmhouse where my Uncle Kermit and Aunt Margaret lived in Upstate New York. That dream came about because the Luther nurse had a high voice much like my aunt, who I loved so much because they took care of me when my mother was ill after the birth of my younger brother, who arrived breach into the world.
The flu finally broke on Saturday afternoon. I lay there in the greasy-feeling sheets for an hour or two. My condition went back and forth between feeling better and having that low, sinking feeling that it would all come back again. Beyond the running I’d missed, it occurred to me that there was a biology assignment due that Monday morning. I’d missed some lab notes and would have to copy them from someone. Such is the yin and yang of college life.
On Sunday morning I gingerly walked back across campus, stopped to nibble some food at the college cafeteria, and returned to the Ylvisaker dorm room where my roommate Keith Ellingson filled me in on who ran what at the Intrasquad meet. Our team leader Doug Peterson ran 20:53 to win the race. Damian Archbold was second in 20:56. Dave Hanson ran third in 21:47. Paul Mullen (a freshman) ran fourth in 21:51. Dani Fjelstad, another freshman, ran 21:52 and Steven Inbody, the older brother of another freshman from our class, ran sixth in 21:52 as well. Kirk Neubauer was seventh in 21:59.
I was left wondering how I’d have placed in that array of Luther guys. All I could do was get back into training and plan for the next meet. Come Monday, I hopped back in with the guys and felt remarkably good running a ten-miler out to the trout farm south of town and back. It stunned me to think that I could feel so good on that run after feeling so awful and crappy just two days before. Yin and yang.
Getting the flu meant that I had to wait until September 13 to run an actual college race. We took second as a team behind Carleton, beating St. Olaf, Winona, and Macalester. I was the seventh man that day in 21:11, not a bad effort for a first-ever college cross country race.
That first semester at Luther also introduced me to the world of campus employment. My college aid package included a portion of loans, but also Work-Study funds that had to be earned each term. I was assigned to the Dish Room at the Union cafeteria. Work started at 5:30 a.m. and lasted a few hours. My work-study program required me to work three times a week. Pay was $1.10 per hour. Annual tuition at Luther was about $3700 per year.
I’d show up for dish room duty sleepy and tired from running the night before. None of us talked much during those morning shifts. We were all too tired and grumpy to care. The kitchen operation was overseen by a taciturn woman named Gladys, whose opinion of students seemed to border between viewing us as “necessary” and “evil.” The Dark Side of yin and yang.
I particularly hated working in the dishroom where the steaming hot plates came out of a giant industrial dishwasher on a belt that never stopped. We weren’t issued any rubber gloves to protect our hands from the heat emanating from the plates. I tried waiting for the plates to move down the incline enough to cool off, but that created additional pressure to unload them in time. It was a living hell to me. Gladys would walk over and stare at you if they dishes backed up at all. My hands and fingertips ached with pain from the constant flow of hot dishes. More than once I cursed her under my breath.
Cooking for dollars
Whenever I could, I weasled my way over to work the cooking stations where we dumped liquified eggs out of gallon jugs to scramble them on giant grills. I liked that work, and making English Muffins too. But Gladys would always pull me back to the damned demon of a dishwasher. I despised that machine. And her, quite frankly.
Certainly, that job taught me the value of work, but it didn’t help my distance running any. Such is the plight of the Division III runner, where there are no scholarships allowed or available. Rather than being given money to run for the college, I worked in the dishroom for several years. That’s the yin and yang of college running at the sub-elite level. You do it for the love of it, and hope you don’t burn out in the process.
One day, as I was finishing lunch and walking out of the cafeteria to go to class, a young woman that I knew from the dishroom was cleaning up the cups and saucers left behind by students. Students were all supposed to take their trays up to the conveyors and send them into the dishroom. Some students seemed to feel that task was beneath them, and left piles of dishes, napkins and leftover food on their tables. The young woman piled some cups on a cafeteria tray and spun to head back to the cafeteria, but she didn’t succeed. I wrote a poem about what happened next.
Waittress Since Thirteen
Although the saucer fit the dish, she turned too quickly, threw the cup, and watched in vain as coffee stained her shoes and left her morning drained, “You’d never know,” she said to me, “I’ve been a waitress since thirteen.
All that Work-Study experience in college saved me from feeling like I needed to flip burgers in some sort of ritualized right-of-passage summer job during school. I certainly had enough of that type of labor for three years at Luther. By the time I was a senior, I got a campus job outside the cafeteria that didn’t require all those early hours. All I can say is that change had a dramatically beneficial effect that I wish I’d figured it out much earlier in college. But that’s life. It’s yin and yang.