My favorite track teammate ever was Guy Morse. Sometimes track seems an individual sport disguised as a team sport—you’re only truly a team on relays—and Guy was middle distance, so he didn’t run relays often. Plus, to run distance, you must be a loner. Nonetheless, he felt like my teammate. He knew what I was running that meet or that day of practice and made it a point to give me a few words. If he could be, he was at the finish line urging us on, shouting our names. He knew every one, was the soul of our squad and my captain.
Though Guy wasn’t the best student at our school, he studied hard in anticipation of an athletic scholarship. His reticence measured his character rather than his intelligence. The most sincere person I’ve ever met, Guy needed few words to encourage you. You knew how much he wanted you to succeed—what was good for you was good for all of us.
Guy could do as many one-armed pull-ups as three of his teammates combined and did them with a grin. He had less to lift—he was wafer thin—but he also knew no panic and went up and down like an Adam’s apple swallowing. He ran the same way. You could identify his lope from half a mile, and the fury of his finishes seemed only a quickening metronome. My junior year, his senior year, he was one of the best in the country, his numbers among the top ten in Track and Field News all season long.
The school’s Anatomy teacher, our cross country coach, once took him out to the track in the middle of the day to be a lab for his class. Guy ran repeat 400s, and after each, they waited to see how long it took for his heart rate to come down to some resting figure, and then he ran again. And again. And again. Without complaint, without words of any kind, without expression, until the time ran out. At lunch that day, a lot of sentences ended in shaking heads, as if they’d just seen a miracle scheduled during third period.
Yet, without those demonstrations, you might never know how good Guy was. A quiet Christian who gave all credit to God, Guy never bragged or strutted. Had he proffered his faith, we teenagers well practiced in punching holes might have sneered at his belief, but how could you? Making fun of Guy would be slashing a masterpiece. You couldn’t make anything as beautiful, and, besides, you loved the artist.
Once Guy and I were on a distance medley relay together, and I remember seeing him come around the turn toward me with the baton and a ten yard lead. I’m not particularly religious, yet I prayed. “Oh please, Lord,” I said inwardly, “don’t let me foul up.”
Well, those weren’t my exact words.
I’ve never been on the end of perfect fly pattern, never snagged a ground ball and turned deftly to first base, never lofted a ball so a teammate might head it into the goal or slam it through the rim. I don’t do balls at all. As a runner, I’ve competed mostly for myself. When Guy handed me the baton, all that evaporated. I was running for him and, because he was running for all of us and God, so was I. I don’t remember the outcome, only that feeling. The moment both our hands touched the baton embodies everything I know about the word “team.”
Throughout his senior year Guy had the same girlfriend, and he treated her as his greatest good fortune. He wouldn’t abide our complaining about our own girlfriends, making his objections clear by accelerating away from us or telling us that, with comments like that, we were lucky to have girlfriends. Ungainly and goofy-looking, Guy made no one’s yearbook list for “best looking,” and he must have felt lucky. He viewed every couple holiday at school—homecoming, seasonal dances, Valentine’s Day fundraisers—as a chance to speak with action. We knew the flowers he bought, the suit he’d wear, the card he’d found and, even our hard-bitten hearts stirred. Guy didn’t care about being thought corny or naïve. At seventeen, I saw that as something to envy.
Guy got his scholarship and went off to a college in state, hoping to keep his ties to this girl he loved as much as running. I saw her on facebook the other day with her husband, so I know she and Guy are no longer together, but I don’t know what happened to him. I tried to keep up with his running career but have long lost him.
Except that I haven’t really. Like most of the important people in our lives, his influence dwarfs his memory, encoded in hand-offs and exhortations, relationships, my son’s stride. I rarely think of Guy… but haven’t forgotten him.