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Polymerase chain reaction is a cornerstone of molecular biology research. Using short pieces of single-stranded DNA called primers the previously invisible becomes tangible.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Shame in Three Quarters

date: 03/27/05
time: morning
weather: 40ºF, mostly sunny, calm
mileage: today-3, week-23, year-87.7
resting (bpm): 62
after workout (bpm): 118
weight: +27


I’ve never considered myself a distance runner. Growing up, I ran sprints, jumped and did hurdles. I ambled along in cross-country during the fall just to build endurance for the spring. I was somewhere between average and back of the pack. We ran a 4-mile distance loop whose final mile-and-a-half wound along a sparsely wooded path parallel to a parkway. Yesterday, I ran that section with Old Friend. Our pace was leisurely. I should have been able to carry a conversation. Instead, my delivery was limited to short phrases.

“Family’s okay. And yours? Yeah, this is it.”

I was referring to a long-ago cross-country practice. Teen Runner was a recent addition to the club. He had an annoying habit of jogging with slow folks like me during obscured parts of endurance runs then, as we would come into view of our coach, he would dust us. To avoid embarrassment, I usually sprinted to keep up. On that day, TR predictably pulled away from us with about a mile to go. It was cold, rainy and I was in no mood to play games. Another Old Friend and I decided to let TR go and have his moment in the spotlight. AOF and I kept our pace as TR accelerated and eventually disappeared into the distance. A sports car zipped by. Although it was probably traveling well in excess of 70 mph, watching it skid across two lanes, off the road and around the bend was in slow motion.

“Oh shit.”

AOF and I sprinted ahead to see where the car landed. It was smashed and overturned. We didn’t see the driver, but TR was motionless on the ground maybe 50 yards in front of the car. He was not breathing and his head lay in a pool of blood.


I doubt that word escaped our mouths, but it certainly rang in our ears. AOF and I took off towards our school. I ran as I never had before. My sight blurred, legs burned and lungs were unrelentingly constricted. I felt shock, horror and grief. Unexpectedly, I also felt ashamed. Not a survivor’s guilt, but something more intrinsically damning. Only moments before the accident, I was thinking unkindly of TR. He was the newbie disrupting my niche and underscoring my weaknesses. He was a show-off, a suck-up, a brown-nose. Those thoughts, my thoughts, still come back to bite me. Three quarters of a mile never felt so long. AOF arrived moments before me. I suspect his report went much like mine.

Fighting back tears I sputtered, “Crash – call -- T’s there --HELP!”

The only consolation in the coming weeks was learning that TR did not suffer; that he most likely died on impact. At his funeral, TR’s family expressed so many kind and loving thoughts. They spoke of his enthusiasm, adventurousness, his caring and potential. It was all so at odds with my thoughts of TR on that tragic day. Yesterday, many years later, I found myself running the same path. My memory of the physical details have faded. The emotional details, however, are still vivid. I once considered myself arrogant, judgmental and far too cynical for my age. Self-centered as it may be, on the day that TR died, I can only hope those parts of me died too.

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