Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 15 Jan 2006 08:18:23 -0500

Sharing Stories


Young neighbors of ours don't have time for the old folks across the street and up a long driveway. They're too busy with children and jobs and friends their own age to think much about us.

They see us working in the yard, walking to the mailbox or driving up the street. We might get a wave, but I doubt if they know my wife Barbara's and my names. To them we have no history, little going for us now in apparent retirement and few prospects for the years we have left.

I'm no better that way. I don't know much more about these neighbors, or about most of the people met in passing each day. I don't hear the stories they could tell.

Barbara wants to hear such stories. Her writing project this year involves interviewing and then profiling what she calls "remarkable ordinary people."

These are folks that others might pass by without noticing. Yet they often have led, and still lead, lives that would amaze anyone who took time to learn about them.

Barbara asked for my help with her list. Naming only women of 50 or more years, we came up with dozens.

I don't have such a list myself. But if I did, it would lead off with a man who keeps my car fueled.

Not one customer in a hundred at the local Chevron station would even know his first name, let alone his last. If they notice him at all, it's only as "that skinny black guy."

Occasionally someone might ask, "Are you the one I see running all the time?" But hardly anyone would know how good a runner he once was, and still is.

My single previously published sentence about him appears in my least-read book, the Running Encyclopedia. It reads, "A rare African-American in road racing, Odis Sanders won the first three national 5K championships -- in 1979, 1980 and 1981."

Odis moved from New York City to Eugene the year of that final title. I happened to arrive here at the same time and saw him often, usually where he worked.

Before the gas station, he paid his bills by washing cars and as a YMCA locker-room attendant. These jobs haven't paid him much more than minimum wage, and he doesn't seem to need or want more.

The irony here is that two Odis's current job involves cars, and I've never known him to drive one. He commutes by bicycle, and is a rare person who logs more miles on foot each day than in motorized vehicles. Other runners, with greater demands on their time and attention, sometimes look upon the simplicity of his life with envy.

Odis told me last summer, "I'm training for the Portland Marathon. It might be my last fling at that distance."

I saw him more than ever on the streets, and especially on the wood-chip running trail known as Amazon. One day he was there when I drove past on the way to school, and was still there on my trip home two hours later.

Next time my gas tank needed filling, I asked how far he'd gone on that run. "Twenty-six miles," he said. That was 26 one-mile laps, all at about six-minute pace.

The result? A 2:32:53 finish at Portland last October. Third place overall, at age 46.

Odis Sanders has the best story to tell of any gas-pumper in my town. Or does he? I haven't asked the others, who might look like ordinary people but maybe aren't.

Everyone has a story, waiting to be heard. Try to become a better listener.


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