Friday and Saturday I was in Ames for the Iowa T&F Coaches Clinic, awash in an environment that is warm and comforting - just like a thick comforter on cold day. It's my home base. In life there is little more enjoyable than sharing the camaraderie of people with mutual interests.
As I looked around the room all of us have aged, the simple 7min/mile pace we ran back in our 20's and 30's now replaced with eight and nine minutes tempos, a few like me reduced to walking eighteen minute miles. WTF!
From across the room I spotted Al Carius, the legendary coach from North Central waving at me from thirty yards away, holding up an index finger to indicate he would join me in a second. Not very likely.
Back when he was neophyte coach for the Cardinals, Al used to get across a crowded room in a minute or two, weaving in and out of bodies like Gale Sayers, able to navigate the short distances without much interruption.
But that's changed with time.
When he finally approached about fifteen minutes later I commented how dramatically he has slowed - winking at him after the comment. The statement sounds rude but let me explain what I told him.
There is something about respected coaches, team success, and a general popularity that does it. Turns speedy hares into the proverbial tortoise. Al was a 2-time Big Ten Champ in cross country. He had some wheels as a youngster. Even had some wheels when he was in his forties. And I have no doubt that he could probably still beat me in a race today.
But it's not that he can't cross the room fast any more. It was that he got stopped so often by friends he couldn't go ten feet without being pulled into a conversation by another group that wanted to bask in his glow. The thirty yard trek across a room that formerly took seconds now took minutes.
I still remember one afternoon as his son stood alongside him at a high school track meet, proud that everyone stopped by Al to say hi, yet Brent still rolling his eyes every time they paused, frustrated it turned a simple walk to the parking lot into an arduous trek.
Not much has changed since that Saturday almost a decade ago.
So telling Al that he has slowed down was the greatest compliment I could give him. That in this crowd of people who we have shared so much with over the years, everyone wants to reconnect and demonstrate how much he means to them! And I was no exception.