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Taking the Road Less my age... is probably not going to be great for my knees.

Sometimes taking the first step in a journey is easy…sometimes I need a nudge…and sometimes I need to be pushed in the back. As I grow older and become seemingly more set in my ways, my daily routine and my complicity with convenience over …well, almost everything…I feel like I'm finally beginning to give in to the voices in my head that say you're probably not ever going to run a six minute mile again, the time to realistically run another competitive marathon has past…..and climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with some buddies seems like it would be harder to schedule than …well, pick anything that's really hard to schedule. Heck, most days I'd settle for telling a joke that my wife and two daughters find remotely humorous…not funny…. just give me a smile for crying out loud....a little something for the effort.

In 1988 I was senior in high school and had a pretty good life..... I even tricked a handful of schools into accepting my college application. I look back on those days and memories with great fondness... the weekends and summers at Brian's, the football games, the soccer games, Silver Lake, Callahan's social traps, getting stuck in the mud in Lewis's sister's Fiat, Bedrock in Buckhead, and sneaking in the backdoor at Neighbor's Pub.

Although, in looking back, it's clear to see that I may not have found the perfect balance between having fun and the whole learning thing. I managed to get through it by applying the bare minimum amount of time and effort. At this time in my life ....time and effort... had been reserved for really only two things.....track practice and really cheap beer.....not always in that order.

For all four years during high school, every spring, I joined the track team. I stood 5'6", weighed maybe 115 lbs and was vaguely fast. I ran in a few relays, a few sprints and... to this day I have no idea why......but... I also did the long jump and triple jump. The long jump and triple jump require three very specific athletic attributes...speed, strength and technique. Nope....Nope...and Nope......I literally was the worst possible athlete for this event.

I spent my freshman and sophomore years training for the long jump and triple jump by myself....the two teachers who coached the Track & Field team were great....but had no real coaching advice for either jumping fact, to this day, the only coaching I have received for either event was from a football coach who just happened to be passing by one day.... "Gould.. it's simple......just run hard and jump go get me a Big Gulp Dr Pepper and a king Sized Snicker bar"......There you go....words to live by. In addition to that great advice....I also took it upon myself to jump incessantly back and forth over hurdles and hop around the track on one foot and then the other...there was no youtube instructional videos.....not even a book in the library.......I slowly began to make incremental progress. At every track meet... another older student named Corey Bell would also enter the long jump and beat me every time........and he never practiced. Man, he loved to beat me.

By my junior year, I had actually become pretty good at both fact, I wasn't too far off from my high school's record in the triple jump.....again I spent all of the practice alone jumping hurdles and hoping around the track on one foot and cleaning sand out of my ears.....for the first time in my life.....I could clearly see the results of time and effort. By the end of my Junior year.. I was within 6 inches of the school record in the triple jump...that is until the last meet of the year....when Corey Bell decided to try the triple for the first time....and not only did he break the school record... but pushed it out another foot or so. He laughed....then he graduated.

I entered my final track season with a singleness of purpose......I jumped over the hurdles and then again and then again....I hoped around the track on one foot ...and then again and again......time and effort......time and effort.....time and effort.

Over the course of four years on the track team... there was another friend of mine who ran track as well....We were never close friends....but really really good friends....this kid was the best... he was a good athlete, he was smart, he was the nicest guy, the girls loved him and he constantly had this goofy grin on his face. Everyday as he passed by me on his warm up laps....he would always stop by when I was jumping hurdles and tell me that he knew I was going to break the school record this year....he would stop and ask what I was doing and why.... he always asked more questions about was never ever about him.....I can hardly remember a person in my life... who was ever more present in a conversation with me than this guy. He a had a way of making you feel very important.

Our last year, my friend and I decided to compete in the high jump against each other at each home meet....we were both terrible at it...somewhere in our mixed up heads... we thought that we were really impressing the ladies.....but it really came down to who was just less terrible on any given day ...sometimes he was less terrible...sometimes I was......I just remember every time he would make it over the bar....he would get up off the mat and look at me with that goofy grin on his couldn't help but smile....and then he would give you a high five when you made it over.

My guess is that everyone who ever met Mark has some small story like that........a story that would make you say .....yeah, I was really really good friends with him.

I broke the school record in the triple jump 5 or 6 times my senior year.....Time and effort....and a really really good friend.

To Mark....I'm gonna try and smile more often, be present in more conversations, shake everyone's hand and wish them good luck along the way and maybe every once in a while on this journey....I'll enter a high jump competition and see if I can get a smile from the ladies one more time...and by ladies... I mean my wife and two daughters... Thank you Mark, I love you and I miss you. RIP

Stay tuned or don't

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