row2k Features
Life is a Metaphor for Rowing, Ch. 19: Doing the Hurt Dance
July 22, 2022
Peter Mallory

After the race, the Mallory brothers, me with my “MERCERSBURG TRACK” t-shirt, with our Cousin Sally

In 1967 at the age of 21 years and 11 months, I graduate from the University of Pennsylvania and get married. Then my life takes me around the world. After having spent the 1966 holidays in Italy restoring Renaissance art and writing articles for American newspapers after the terrible Florence flood of the previous month, I return the following summer to continue my work . . . AND to row every afternoon on the Arno River, now back between its banks.

Museo del Opera del Duomo, where I worked
Museo del Opera del Duomo, where I worked

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

I will be spending the next three years teaching, but I return to Boathouse Row and to Undine Barge Club for the summer of 1968. At the U.S. Nationals it had been a lightweight eight for me in 1965 and a lightweight coxed-four in 1966. This year it will be a lightweight quad, four guys with two oars each and no coxswain, and we're returning to Hunter Island Lagoon, but, sadly, without Fred Leonard. No more summer coaching for him. Our loss.

Simple story here. Again we never took a picture. Once I got old, I even had to ask Tom Cassel if he had been in the boat. Turns out he was, and he even had an old, faded newspaper clipping from The New York Times. (That's what we all are now, incidentally. Old, faded newspaper clippings . . . and from The New York Times if we're lucky!) Me in bow, John Cantrill in 2, Cassel in 3, my old 1965 U.S. Nationals Eight teammate Don Callahan in stroke. I wonder if he remembers. "We're family, Don. I'm in the phone book! La Jolla, California."

What happened? We four men, a good boat, the favorites according to the Old Gray Lady, we got beat, fair and square. No buoys. They were gone by then, thank Heaven, and no crabs either. Just a better boat from Detroit Boat Club, a bunch of guys from the same 1965 eight that had beaten Don and me and the rest of our buoy-challenged crew. Beat us this time by 11 seconds. Not much of a race for them. I wonder if they even remember. Hell of a race for us. With about 600 meters to go and us resigned to second place, I suddenly realize that we have wandered out of our Lane 1 and clear off the course, thanks to me, me being "the toe", it being my responsibility to row, steer and feel sorry for myself simultaneously . . . and we're headed straight for a little dock just outside of the course! Little, perhaps, but an immoveable obstacle just the same. Oh my! Crank in a big correction! When I straighten us back out, we find a boat from Upper Merion Boat Club, five miles up the Schuylkill River from our home on Boathouse Row, a boat from Upper Merion is suddenly nipping at our heels.

Upper Merion? Impossible! These guys seem like jokes! They've rowed in Philadelphia forever and never won anything. They're ancient, over 30 for Heaven's sake! (An uncomfortable statistic for me today, now that I am more than twice as old as they must have been back then! Way more, I'm afraid!)

And the boat is stroked by some little kid! A little kid, for Heaven's sake! What's his name? Billy Belden? He must be a future World Champion if he can singlehandedly carry a bunch of ancient derelicts down the course and challenge us at the U.S. National Championships. "Don't you know we are the favorites, little Billy Belden?"

U.S. Silver Medal number three. Holy cow! But who's counting? Who, indeed?

* * * * *

I have told you that during my first two years after college I taught at a boarding school in central Pennsylvania, Mercersburg Academy. I taught math (for the benefit of the draft board) and art studio, art history and philosophy for my students and myself. Very rewarding, but no river, no lake nearby, so no rowing at the school. Instead, I coached cross country and track, and I began training hard for my very first marathon: Boston in 1969. Back then, things were simpler in Boston. After the race I would get my result in a hand-written scribble from the organizer, Jock Semple, remembered in later decades for having tried to tear the race number off the chest of Katherine Switzer two years earlier as she was competing. She had entered as K.V. Switzer despite the ban on female entrants. Other runners came to Switzer's aid, oh yes!

Handwritten note from Jock Semple
Handwritten note from Jock Semple

My brother, George, was a junior at Harvard in 1969, and he had already attempted the Boston Marathon in 1968, only to be brought to his knees by a stomach bug. We trained separately for 1969, he in Cambridge, me in Mercersburg, but we determined to run together for solidarity during the race. I hung with him for about ten miles before I concluded that his pace was a tickle too ambitious for me. Reluctantly, I bid him adieu. He eased away, but I could see his head bobbing in the mob ahead of me for another couple of miles at least. Watched it in fascination.

Like many before me, I suffered mightily up Heartbreak Hill, and for the last six miles my quadriceps muscles were on the absolute verge of seizing up on every next stride. As I approached the finish line, one of my former Mercersburg Cross Country Team members, now a freshman at B.U., encouraged me to sprint past the person just in front of me. "Hey Mr. Mallory, pick it up! There's a guy just in front of you!" I assured him I was already going as fast as I possibly could. Laughs all around. I literally limped home in 3:44:27, 507th in a field of around 1,500, according to Jock Semple's handwritten note to me.

Approaching the finish, no amount of encouragement from a former member of the Mercersburg Cross Country Team would allow me to go even one millisecond faster. Couldn't do it!
Approaching the finish, no amount of encouragement from a former member of the Mercersburg Cross Country Team would allow me to go even one millisecond faster. Couldn't do it!

Listen to what a fool I was back in 1969. I wasn't turning out to be a particularly gifted distance runner - lots of the Mercersburg kids beat me in practice day in and day out - and when I thought about the marathon, twenty-six miles seemed like such a long way . . . so to boost my self-confidence I decided to run the entire distance a couple of times before I went to Boston. I mapped out a course on the farm roads of Cumberland Valley, and on the two weekends prior to the race I ran the full distance, ran around 3:20 both times. So the 1969 Boston Marathon ended up being my third marathon in fifteen days! No wonder I was doing the hurt dance up Heartbreak Hill!

To be continued . . .

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