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My latest book - tell me if it sucks.

I'm trying to decide if this story is worthy of publishing. Whether there is enough interest to invest in printing hard copies. Tell me what you think - auspicious or lame, sanguine or lugubrious. Over the next few weeks I'll give you the first three chapters of the book. This is the sequel to "Run Like a Girl." Give me some feedback on my latest effort.

Girl on the Run

Chapter 1

August 22, 1982

I sat on the giant boulders along the Lake Michigan shoreline, blocks of limestone stacked in random piles at the water’s edge, my eyes staring eastward across the water at clouds hovering low over the lake, trying to digest my first weekend on the Northwestern campus. My roommate was taking a nap but I was restless, walking across campus, drawn towards the water without thought.

Cross country camp officially began Monday the 23rd, our first meet at UW-Parkside in three weeks, classes for the first quarter not getting underway until Thursday September 23rd. I was grateful to focus on running before the schoolwork began, my concern about the demands of classes more unnerving than any worry about running.

In early August I got the news Coach Capriotti was leaving and Mike O’Shea would be taking his place, the change quite a shock so close to the cross country camp. We didn’t know a thing about him other than he was twenty-nine and ran at Michigan. I worried he wouldn’t want me, possibly cutting my athletic scholarship – even though mom and dad claimed it wouldn’t happen. But you never know.

Jennifer Hernandez was my roommate at Hobart House, the dignified 3-story dormitory like a fifty-year-old dowager – elegant but old. And I mean old. We bought matching bedspreads, managing to fit a small loveseat along the window for any sleepovers, pinning posters from Chariots of Fire and Richard Gere in “American Gigolo” on blank walls, a purple African violet on my desk and a macrame plant hanger I knotted from twine dangling from the curtain rod, the spider plant desperately in need of water.

Later that afternoon, I walked to Giordano’s pizzeria with Jennifer to meet the rest of the team, Coach O’Shea waving us over as we circled through the revolving door, nervously smiling as we approached our new teammates. I was excited but scared, clinging to Jennifer like we were attached at the hip, both of us worried about being accepted by the girls. And by our new coach. He hadn’t recruited us.

"Good to see you Sarah." Coach shook my hand and they my roommates. "Grab a seat Jennifer." He pointed.

My concerns were all for nothing, our teammates treating us like old friends, already making plans for activities on campus and trips into Chicago before school began. Coach O’Shea was personable and dynamic, his enthusiasm inspiring everyone, expressing to Jennifer and me that he was excited to have us on the team.

After we finished eating he went over the schedule, new 1982 NCAA rules, times for physicals, and then jumped into the day to day routine.

“Until school begins we’ll meet each morning…except Sunday, at 9am at Anderson Hall. Some days we’ll go off campus, others we’ll do workouts around here. Bill Jarvis, the equipment manager will hand out practice gear and give you a locker after Monday morning’s tomorrow come dressed to run.”

He looked around the table after finishing his talk.

“Any questions?”

Anita Keller smiled and waved her hand like a second grader.

“Hey Mike. Coach. Is it true you’re going to take us shopping at Old Orchard after we get lockers?”

Everyone broke out laughing, the grin on Anita’s face telling us she was joking…sorta.

Monday morning Jennifer and I jogged the half mile to Anderson Hall from our dormitory, Becky Beach and Joanne Sloan already sitting in the grass when we arrived. Becky shaded her eyes with a hand and smiled.

“Good morning. Did you two think to bring a dry tee shirt? You’re going to need it. The woods are always steamy and you’ll sweat like a stuck pig.”

Jennifer and I twisted sideways, the profile of our backpacks answering her question.

If you gotta pee, do it now.” Joanne pointed at the hallway. “There’s one in Anderson Hall. They have portable toilets on the trails but you don’t want to use them – no toilet paper and they’re all gross.”

We both shook heads. From behind us Anita approached at a jog, wearing a black t-shirt with a headshot of Debbie Harry, her sleeves haphazardly removed with scissors, smiling when she slowed to a stop after hearing Joanne’s statement.

“So which of you two.” Anita pointed back and forth between Jennifer and me. “Has taken a nature pee?”

We all laughed, my hand creeping into the air, a blush filling my cheeks.

“So do you use the squat technique or…”

Her head turned, tossing a quick wave to Coach O’Shea as he burst through the Anderson Hall door like he was late for a meeting with Janelle, Alice, and Terry trailing behind. He was carrying an orange Gatorade cooler and a sleeve of cups, the tilt of his shoulders indicating the container was certainly full. Anita grinned and covered laughter with a hand, winking at me as she took a sip from her water bottle.

“Okay, okay, enough chatter ladies.” He jiggled the van keys. “Let’s load up.” Coach turned to Anita. “I see you already picked up your practice gear.” He rolled his eyes at her ratty shirt, unlocking the van so would jump in.

The dirt trail in Glenview meandered alongside the Des Plaines River, the path wide enough we could run in groups of two and three, chatter continuous at first, petering out as the heat began to overwhelm us – in spite of the shade provided by huge oak and cottonwood trees. I enjoyed the setting, through a break in the trees spotting a blue heron standing still in a shallow part of the river, waiting for a guileless fish to swim by.

On the ride to the trail I was a bit nervous, afraid I would get buried by the girl’s tempo, but after Coach O’Shea told us no faster than 7:30 pace my worries disappeared. This was my first opportunity to show them I was made of the right stuff.

As we ran through the forest the steady rhythm of foot strikes was hypnotic, my mind drifting to the conversation with mom at Dane’s Dairy last June. I knew she wanted to spend more time with me before I left for school in mid-August, though a bit surprised when she spoke the unspoken words about Thorsten which I had been thinking of for weeks.

“I think Thorsten is a great boy. He’s polite, very motivated, and has a good head on his shoulders.” Mom smiled. “And if I was your age, I wouldn’t mind having him on my elbow.” She burst into laughter.

I rolled my eyes.

“But we need to talk about you two getting intimate.”

I blushed, turning side to side to make sure no one overheard, more embarrassed by her words than I was by the awkwardness of the subject she was broaching. It was as if she could read my mind. Recently, I had been thinking about it much more, wondering if I was ready. Wondering if this was the time. That Thorsten was the one.

“First, I want to remind you to always keep me in the loop. I’m on your side…no matter what.” The way she looked at me I could read the words that she didn’t say. That she didn’t want me getting pregnant.

“Second, I don’t want you having intercourse but also realize everything in your body is saying how badly you want to. So if you need birth control pills tell me. We’ll get them when you want. It’s your decision…just don’t wait until it’s too late.” She put her hand over mine and squeezed it. “But if you can wait…please do. The intimacy changes some boys…has an effect on relationships that even I failed to realize.”

I looked up into her eyes, the openness of her words shocking. She pursed her lips and nodded.

“You’re young. I’m not saying Thorsten isn’t the one…but you need to think about where your paths are headed. He has three more years in Missouri and you have four in Chicago. The two campuses are four hundred miles apart and your weekends will be busy with cross country and track. A long distance relationship is much harder than you think…I know.” Her head dropped. “So.” She smiled. “Let me know what you decide.”

We stood and embraced for an extra beat, mom finishing with a kiss on the top of my head.

Now the summer was gone. Memories of camping with Thorsten at the reservoir our last weekend were still fresh in my mind. It made my heart ache. How was I ever going to survive our separation? That evening we sat around the campfire and stared into the flames, his arms around me as I leaned back into his body, feeling so contented – like I had died and gone to heaven.

After the 4th of July weekend Thorsten left for his internship at the Daily Tribune in Columbia, running miles the only thing filling my aching heart, a final trip to Knoxville in August for the 1982 AAU meet merely something to divert the sadness. My boyfriend was gone.

I still hadn’t attended a class before our first meet at UW-Parkside on September 11th, the hilly course one I was quite familiar with. It’s where I qualified for my first Kinney Championship in San Diego. Where I ran 17:50 as a sophomore at East High. One that always provided comfort.

I stared out the van window from the seat behind coach as we drove northward on I-94 towards Wisconsin, lazily absorbing the sites and scenes. A roller coaster climbing the rails at Great America, hands going up as riders crested the initial hill, a few minutes later Coach O'Shea tossing change into the tollway basket near the Wisconsin border.

“Hey look.” Anita pointed out the sign as we crossed into Wisconsin, laughing at the words “Bong State Recreation Area” before we turned off the highway towards the Kenosha course.

I wanted so badly to make this first race a memorable one, a performance that would set the stage for an illustrious career. Make me something special. Too many good high school runners had succumbed to factors they were unprepared for or unaware of when they started college. Those were the ones who returned home with a hangdog look that aged their faces.

They didn’t acknowledge real issues - the “freshmen fifteen” gained in the dining hall, dorms which were so loud it was impossible to fall asleep before midnight, or the foolish investment in campus social life (aka a boyfriend or sororities) that was guaranteed to conflict with success. I didn’t want to be another one of those failures.

And then there was school. Last summer dad spoke with me about the importance of study habits while we sat on the patio, waiting for the grill to heat up for the burgers.

“Think of it like you do training. Only a fool would practice three days a week and skip the others. I guarantee that plan would fail. It’s the same with studies. Two to three hours six days a week will get you further than two all-nighters. Be consistent. Do a little bit often.” I cut in.

“Yeah, but I’m worried about how smart everyone is.” I sighed. “I mean, 100 percent of the students were in the National Honor Society. Probably all of them valedictorians. So I’m just another face.” Dad could hear my exasperation. He held up a hand.

“Honey, mom and I will love you no matter how you do…even if the semester yields a 1.50.” He smiled. “But please keep it a little higher.” His grin was much bigger. “I think a reasonable goal is to focus on a 3.00. I know you are capable of A’s in English, history, and psychology, but I also know you’re challenged in sciences. So if you get two A’s, one B, and a C in science you still have a 3.25.” He leaned over and gave me a hug. “Mom and I will be happy with that.”

I felt better but knew at that moment it was all talk. As my high school coach always said. “The proof’s in the pudding.” Right now I did know if I was ready to try it.

Eight of us warmed up for the 5K race at Parkside in gray Northwestern t-shirts and purple nylon shorts over bun-huggers, temperatures warm enough that anything more would be too uncomfortable. I was still in a bit of shock. When Coach O'Shea handed out competition briefs that covered no more than a bikini bottom the whites of my eyes doubled in size. Holy shit! He expects me to wear this?

Anita cornered Jennifer and I that day after the workout.

“Well girls. No more granny panties!” She burst out laughing. “ Looks like you two will be shopping at Casual Corner this afternoon!”

My first college race. I was nervous, but less so because Coach O'Shea wanted everyone to stay together, to make sure we all passed the two-mile mark in a cluster. Dad’s advice from my first race here as a sophomore in high school was stuck in my head.

“Whatever you run the first mile, double it and it should be your two mile split.”

Eight of us stood in box 15, glancing despondently at the steep hill only a quarter mile ahead, anxious to get the race underway. I hate this wait. I gotta pee. Let’s go. Let’s go. For as uptight as I was, after the tiny cannon fired I remembered almost nothing of the competition. Only Becky’s gold necklace bouncing up and down as we climbed the initial hill and Anita’s arm over my shoulder as we shuffled through the first finish chute.

Coach O’Shea was ecstatic as we circled at the back of the chutes, patting each of us on the back, pleased with the twelve second split between our #1 and #6. A pig-tailed runner from Drake beat Joanne, Becky, and Janelle into the line, a second Bulldog athlete separating Anita and me from our teammates, Jennifer’s meager kick leaving her five seconds behind our front five.

We won the meet with twenty-two points, Joanne toting the championship trophy back to the van, everyone thrilled to get the season underway with such an auspicious beginning. My college career was off to a good start. It was cool to hear "Sarah Tucker - Northwestern" when the announcer said I was seventh place.

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