At evening meals a track team is like a big family. And like a big family everyone relaxes in chairs after the meal to let the food digest, conversation bouncing around the table like a ping pong ball on cement. It was always an enjoyable way to end a long day. To discover more about each of the athletes in idle moments.
My first year as Drake assistant coach Marie and Liz always sat together at meals - I assumed because their friendship dated back almost ten years. They first met as teenagers on the Swedish national track team way in the mid-70's, both considered some of the finest up and coming athletes their country produced.
This day Marie and Liz were sitting on the far end of the long table, leaning to the side with heads together as if they had dropped something on the floor. Probably a spoon or napkin. If they hadn't looked back and forth after coming up, like something suspicious was going on, I probably would have thought nothing of it.
But there was definitely something fishy. These two were always playing pranks.
Was this another one?
The next weekend I watched the two were involved in the same activity so I glanced under the table, curious to see what they were up to. Both were pulling items out of Marie's backpack, Liz coming up while Marie stayed bent over. I could tell Liz was playing with something in her lap but I hadn't a clue what. None of their teammates seemed to notice, all of them lost in conversation. I kept my eyes on the pair.
Marie came up ten seconds later, handing the items (whatever they were) to Liz, Marie brushing something off her hands while Liz ducked down under the table for a brief moment. What in the hell is going on? Time to find out.
I got up and casually walked towards their end, ostensibly to go to the bathroom, trying to discover what they were doing. By the time I got down there all I saw was a pencil on the table in front of Liz, both girls with a knee bouncing up and down like they had ants in their pants.
I subtly looked at their reflection in a window, the pair's heads rotating in unison to follow my walk towards the bathroom, giggles bursting from behind when they thought I was out of hearing.
Now I had to know what was going on.
When I got back the head coach signaled to the team that it was time to leave, circling a finger overhead like a lasso with the words "round 'em up", most girls heading to the bathroom before we drove home. I pulled the Swedes aside as chairs emptied.
"What are you two up to?"
They both covered their mouths and began giggling, Liz the first one to speak.
"We're using snuff." They both nodded. I furrowed my brows as I looked from one to the other. Snuff? They must be kidding.
Marie was smiling as she set her backpack on the table, cupping a tin of Copenhagen pulled from the front pocket in one hand, in the other holding an empty tampon tube and pencil. She demonstrated.
"See, we load up the tampon tube with snuff, then use the pencil as a plunger." Liz lifted up her top lip so I could see the tobacco. "Voila!"
I burst into laughter, moments later finding out later they started the disgusting habit over seven years ago - at the age of fifteen. Yuk. We had two crazy Swedes on the team.
And I discovered two other things that memorable day in January. Only half of the girls on the team were aware they used snuff and that a tampon tube had more than one use. Who could imagine?