In the early 80's I had a great distance runner, one that still holds some of the Drake records - even though forty years have passed. Liz was so good that it wasn't unusual for her to get invited to prestigious meets, her outdoor marks of 9:18 in the 3K and 16:16 in the 5K ranked high on the national lists.
I drove her to the Des Moines airport a Friday morning in mid-February and dropped her off near the gate, double-checking make sure she had her tickets and passport. Liz would be running Friday evening at the Toronto Star Maple Leaf Games. She was fit enough that she might run under 9:30 at the 3K distance...but on a ten-lap indoor track it was tough to tell.
When she grabbed her travel bag out of the back seat, I wished her good luck, thinking the duffle was probably too big to fit in an overhead and would have to be checked. The flight to Detroit was two hours, then there was a quick change of planes, and a final seventy-minute hop to Toronto. Most of my athletes hadn't flown much, but Liz was from Sweden and a veteran international flyer so I wasn't worried she'd get there okay.
The rest of the story I didn't hear until I picked her up Saturday evening at the airport.
"So the plane out of Detroit was delayed and I didn't arrived in Toronto until three hours before my race. There was a guy with a sign at the baggage carousel waiting for me and two other athletes with the same issue, everyone hurriedly tossing bags in the back of the station wagon, climbing in so we could go directly to the indoor track."
Liz laughed with a hand over her mouth.
"On the way there I could smell something yeasty in the car, the aroma bad enough that we all cracked the windows a bit." Liz smirked. "Me and the girl in the back seat thought it was our driver. That he had been drinking. So when he dropped us off I was so relieved."
"We found the locker room for girls and I opened my bag. The aroma hit me like a blast from a dumpster. It was my bag!" Her laughter was full-throated this time. "Just before I left on Friday, Marie (her roommate) had been acting suspicious...but I couldn't figure what she was up to. She put a can of beer in my bag...you know, for after the race."
Liz looked at me and laughed.
"My spikes must have punctured the can and all my clothes - the sweats and meet uniform, even the bra I race in; everything was drenched in beer. I washed them out in a locker room sink, holding the clothes to the hand dryer after, hoping a warmup outside in fresh air would remove the beer smell." I looked at Liz and chuckled before she resumed.
"So I jogged for twenty minutes, reporting to the clerking area ten minutes before the race, the aroma mostly gone. At least I thought so." A mischievous grin appeared. "But when I took off my sweats the odor was still there, the other girls scrunching their noses at the awful smell...they were certain I was drunk!" Liz had to wait until her laughter ceased to continue.
"Well, you should have seen. None of the runners would stand next to me. My BO was killing them. I was laughing so much that they thought I was looney. Even the starter could smell it." She broke out laughing again. "I was afraid he would disqualify me!"
I spoke for the first time since I said hello.
"Yeah, but how did you do?"
"Third place! My best indoors - 9:26...not bad for a drunk!" She smiled proudly.
Enjoy this story? Be sure to check out the rest of the website where you can purchase my books, "A Golden Era" and "A Long Road Ahead" which tell the stories of the high school and college running careers of a father in the 70s and his son in the 2000s.