Total Pageviews

Monday, 31 December 2012

#74: Two Degrees of Separation — Part Seven

I flew from London Heathrow to Chicago's O’Hare International Airport in late August 2003, then enjoyed a three-hour+ coach ride to the University of Wisconsin—Platteville (UWP), which would be my home for the next four months.

The coach driver was remarkable. The most jovial, energetic and positive guy I’d ever been driven by. He may have been on Speed, though I like to think just auditioning for a part in the next movie in the franchise of the same name.

His whistle-stop commentary en route was outstanding. If all Americans were like this I was in for a treat.

I met two Germans waiting for our shuttle bus to the halls that first night; Steffen and Chris from Darmstadt – just down the road from Frankfurt. Both friendly, outstanding guys. Particularly 6-ft 6-inch Steffen.

Steffen and Chris would later team-up with another German, Tomas, to become Team Johnny English – my support crew for October's Chicago Marathon (making TJE t-shirts and everything).

Thomas was the quirkiest of the three; in fact, a bit of a loose cannon at times.

He and I teamed up for a time management presentation one week and it went well. We were on time and didn’t overrun. In fact, I got an A. And Thomas an A-. Why the difference? It turned out to be UWP protocol NOT to swear while presenting. If only Thomas had cursed in German (scheisser) he may have got away with it!

The easiest class credit I’ve ever attained was during my UWP stay. Golf 101. Where we literally just hacked it round Platteville Golf & Country Club for an hour every Tuesday morning at 8.

Coach (Jim) Nickasch gave us a briefing before the first class, and then it was “Go hit some balls! And try not to slice any off the 6th tee (where Mrs. Maloney’s greenhouse lay in wait)."

My favourite classes were with the great Tom Antczak – the 1978 American Marathon champ – who taught me Physiology of Exercise and Fitness Evaluation. He was also (and still is) UWP’s head cross country coach and was a fountain of knowledge and great advice as I geared up for the Chicago Marathon.

When I’d seemingly shot myself in the foot by volunteering to lead a campus relay team FOUR days before the marathon and got caught up in the excitement and adrenaline of racing, it was Tom who reassured me – when I was unable to walk the next day – that things would be A-OK in Michigan come Sunday. And he was right.

UWP had become a training base for the Chicago Bears NFL squad a few years earlier, and the Bears had shelled out a crisp $1-million on a new state-of-the-art gym/training facility at the university.

I was lucky enough to reap the benefits of the facility during my time there, using the rowing machine and indoor track (when it was freeze-your-chestnuts-off cold out) during the winter months.

Running one of the famous big-city marathons in the Windy City (it’s now one of the six World Marathon Majors) was a major highlight of my term in the States.

Team Johnny English (Steffen, Chris & Thomas) very kindly drove me up to Chicago the day before, and we stayed overnight in some accommodation I’d booked at the University of Chicago’s International (student) House.

TJE, naturally, wanted to paint the Windy City at least a subtle shade of purple the night before; so I bunkered down early and left them to it.

I vaguely recall them arriving back – before I awoke at 5am on race-day (start-time was 8am) with an unidentifiable German male to my left in the King-sized bed we’d bagged as part of the suite. I thought I was hallucinating at first, but then realized it was one of the boys (Chris, I recall).

I’d trained with a Sub-3-hour time in mind – though hadn’t yet been part of a group or running club, and my best marathon time at that point (I’d only run three prior to Chicago) was 3:41 in the 2000 London.

And with my body still silently lambasting me for the crazy relay leg I’d run four days prior, my time goal was a little more modest going in. Sub-3:15 would be great, but I’d be happy with Sub-3:30, too.

In the event, I ran 3:19:42 (chip-time) to sneak inside the top 2500 (2494 – thanks!) and, all things considered, was very happy. It was also easy to hook up with the guys post-race, too – standing 6-feet six, Steffen stood out like a giraffe at a Hobbits convention.

Academically, I held my own in Platteville. They did a weird thing in some of the classes, skewing some of the exam results so that the guy (or gal) with the highest mark in the class would get 100% – even if they actually only scored 10% in the test (and everyone else had mainly doodled).

So, on several occasions I finished at or near the top (in the high 90s; once 100), when in reality I’d only scored in the 70s. I was hailed as some kind of genius, but did try to set people straight. On occasion.

Either way, the overall standards were lower in the States and my converted grade back in the UK was 71 (even though I'd averaged in the 90's). But 71 – again. I was Mr. Consistent, if nothing else.

I made some great friends during my time at UWP. Not only the German trio, and the coaching duo (Tom and Jim), but also standout athletes Andres (Young), Dana (Zimmerman) and Ryan Kleimenhagen; and Jamie Udelhofen, a UWP admin whiz by day, and Perfect Pint hostess by night.

My final night I hung out with a few friends – and downed a few Perfect Pints of Guinness (four beauties; had to replenish my iron levels). Then, the following morning, I enjoyed a memorable six-mile run with Dana in arctic conditions.

Great fun, but also memorable because the Black Stuff almost came back to say “Hi!” on several occasions. Thankfully the stunning scenery remained just white.

That night, I jumped on the Chicago-bound coach, then flew from O’Hare to Toronto Pearson (IA) for a Jardine family Christmas in Canada (London, Ontario).

Then it was off to Sydney (via Los Angeles) for Leg Two of my Year Two abroad.


No comments: