In 1979, my senior year of high school, I was running a two-mile run in a track meet at our high school, Saranac Lake Central High School, or “SLCHS.”
The starter hit the gun, and off we went!
Now, in all my track-and-field events, I was never the best. I was never the worst, either. That’s how I described myself. I was pretty much middle-of-the-pack. Sometimes “higher,” sometimes “lower.” I ran the two-mile run, sometimes 440s. Various lengths and positions of relays. The mile run. I also did the shot put, long jump, and triple jump.
In any event, pardon the pun, I was okay in all of them, but definitely nothing distinguished.
As our pack of runners, which included me, take off from the starting line, we’re all jockeying into the inner lane and ahead of our [non-political] front runners, and are coming up on the first bend, when—
My left leg suddenly felt…wrong.
It felt as if my upper and lower leg were suddenly connected by a huge rubber band and there was delayed motion: as I lifted my upper leg…there felt like a delay in the lower leg following up from below to meet it. In other words, if you had both of your fists together, first lift the top fist…then a moment later…bring the lower fist up to meet the top fist.
That was the unreal feel of the thigh lifting “separately”…then the calves bumping up below it to “meet” it.
I don’t remember any pain, but I’m sure there was at some point, but with all the adrenaline running through me, well, at that point, that was about the only thing about me that was running.
I banked off the running track into the interior field and slammed to a halt.
The long and the short of it was that (as I’ve elsewhere described in my posts) is that I discovered I’d torn my meniscus. It was a “hairline” tear, as I remember that wonderful diagnosis. Other than that, I don’t remember anything else about it. I’ve since learned that back then there really was nothing to do about it.
Terrific. No more running that year. My senior year. My last year of being middle-of-the-road in everything. Mr. Undestinguished.
Had I ever considered throwing the discus, the coaches asked?
Well, that had my attention.
So, coaches Sturgeon and/or Bell took me out to the school parking lot with some others, and faced us away from the cars toward the practice field used for football and the “field” part of “tack and field.” They had these heavy-ish little “flying saucer”-shaped objects. They were really cool…in fact they even “felt cool” in my hand. Had a neat heft to them. I immediately loved how they “handled.”
“Okay,” Mr. Sturgeon or Bell said as they pointed me away from the cars and out toward the empty field, “this is what you do…,” and they proceeded to show me the form, wind up, and release.
Yeah, all that looked cool, too.
I stared out into the empty field before me…focused…slowly twisting and turning…preparing for the kinetic windup…my hand weighed down with the epitome, the gravitas of Greek Olympics….
This would be my new canvas! My new art!
I hefted the disc…performed the odd-little twisty windup…then uncoiled like a thermonuclear top—releasing my 3.3-pound lenticular payload into the air!
Oh, what a positively exhilarating feeling!
It zipped from my grip and sliced through the air like the ground-launched missile that it was!
Directly behind me.
Yeah. Exactly 180 degrees from where it was supposed to go!
As I skipped to a stop and came back down to Earth, I looked to where I’d tossed the damned thing, and saw that—to a person—every single person standing behind me was crouched and protecting themselves in various stages of distress, watching my discus zing over their heads—
And headed straight for the cars.
Wide eyed and I’m sure with some look of shocked “Oh, shit!” expression on my face, I watched as the hurtled projectile released from my hand smacked into a windshield—
But, lo!, summarily deflected off the glass like a skipping stone!
Yeah, my discus had harmlessly deflected off the windshield without a scratch, crack, or shatter.
Not a lick of damage. We all checked.
Of course, that was back when windshields were made of stone, and not two thin sheets of quarter-inch “fine silica sand.”
Once those behind me had realized none of them had been decapitated, I seem to remember they all just bust out laughing, you know, after they all gave me the appropriate looks-of-terror, and (I’m sure) some rather choice adjectives. Even Sturgeon and/or Bell—or maybe even Raymond (I don’t recall if only one of them or all three were there, but I do seem to remember “versions” of them at times, though I typically mainly dealt with Mr. Sturgeon in Track and Field). But the joy at still finding themselves all alive, standing, and in one piece was the big thing.
Sooo, we retrieved the disc. Began to focus on form. Obviously the first rule of discus throwing it to not hit anything. Or anybody. Just the ground. Waaay out front.
We obviously had some work to do.
Though I remained able to throw the shot put—again, not great, not terrible—I had now discovered a whole new sport I’d never before considered…throwing this three pound “lenticular disc” made of plastic, wood, fiberglass, rubber, or metal. I remember one made of wood with a metal rim and a metal core. I seem to remember using all or most of these different materials. There was also a “training” version (might have been the wood-and-metal one) that was heavier than the competition version. It was blast for me! I finally found something I was really good at!
In the end, I became the main thrower for our track-and-field team that year. Once I got the form down, I found that I could really toss that baby.
And how I loved it!
It was more fun than any other thing I ever did in Track and Field…or any other sport.
But I was also somewhat disappointed: Really? I had finally found what I was apparently made to do…in my last year of high school?!
Well, I didn’t let that deter me from playing the hell out of that little flying saucer thingee.
During area track meets, I usually came in between first and third place. When we played our rivals, Tupper Lake, I never came in first. These guys were born six foot two, 220 lbs, full beards. Had their “wives and kids” on the sidelines with them. I had better luck charging head first into a brick wall.
And as much fun as I’d had throwing the discus, when it came to our State trials, the Van Dusens, Life once again threw me another curve: I never qualified. The harsh irony of it was that, plain and simply, I choked. Or was possessed. Or woke up on the underside of the bed that morning. I couldn’t even throw my normal distances! It was like my body had rebelled. It simply was not cooperating! It was like chucking whiffle-ball versions of the disc. I have no idea what happened that day, but it was embarrassing and disheartening.
It was my last chance to perform something I was actually really good at, finally after four years (or three, not sure when I actually started Track & Field) of participating, and I pulled off a feeble, flaccid, and disgraceful performance worthy of someone who’d just come in off the streets and was told, “Here, toss this thing over there.” To this day I remember that feeling…it was like it wasn’t the same body I’d been using. Felt totally off…out of sync with what I’d been doing. I mean, sure, I wasn’t throwing 147 feet, but I was certainly doing better than whatever the hell it was I “threw” at the trials that day.
Why do things like that happen?
Well, besides the fun I’d had in this exciting journey of mine, the only other consolation I had was that in one of my school practices, I’d actually broken the school record! If I remember correctly it was on the order of maybe two inches? But, since it was only in a practice, it meant nothing. It wasn’t at an official meet and I’d never been able to duplicate it again. So, no, you won’t find my name up there in 1979.
So it goes.
But, of all my SLCHS activities…cross-country running and skiing, soccer, Track and Field…throwing the disc was what I absolutely excelled at and loved the most. I loved performing the throw, the positioning…the windup…release. It turned out to be the absolute best of all my teenage athletic abilities.
How cool was that?
Today SLCHS is now called Saranac Lake High School, or “SLHS,” which is part of the the Saranac Lake Central School District, or “SLCS.” Our mascot used to be the Redskins, like the Washington Redskins, but has now been changed to “Red Storm.”
I contacted my old high school asking about school records and asked if they had any records from the 1970s. Indoor and Outdoor Track-and-Field Coach Cy Ellsworth told me that they didn’t have any records for the 1970s. Dang it.
Well, here are the current SLCS discus-throwing records:
- The current discus record was set in 1987 by Mike Todd: 155′ 7″.
- The next best throw was in 1991 by Cy Ellsworth himself: 154′ 5″.
- The best thrower in the 2000’s was Jon Hewitt in 2019: 143′ 4″.
- And right now, they have a 14 year old who throws 120 feet! Can you believe that?
NOTE: I thank Dick Monroe for his inspiration to me to write up these little snippets of memory! Dick was two years behind me in high school, but we saw a lot of each other in Track and Field. Dick graduated in ’81 and went on to become an Army Ranger officer…and also fought off three cancer attacks. There’s a fighter. He and I reconnected through one of his SLCHS posts on Facebook just months ago. Go take a look at his blog, “Adirondack Outlaw.” But a funny thing about this post of mine and one of his is that as I was writing mine, he was also writing his post about SLCHS and was using a picture of the boys’ team in Track and Field! Creepy minds think alike. You’ll also notice my bit about the Redskins. Yup, I also wrote that before I knew he also wrote about it.
Thanks, Dick, for the inspiration!