Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived. If you would like to be notified when I post new material, sign up for my email list. To comment on a newsletter, write to joe@joehenderson.com. All correspondence is subject to publication unless you request that it remain private.

Aug 28, 2005

Keeping Watch

RUNNING COMMENTARY 586

My version of the "Live Strong" bracelet will never sell millions of copies as that yellow rubber band has done. Mine will never go on sale at all. The only way to get one is to earn it, or in my case to inherit it from someone who had earned it.

I've never met Lance Armstrong or raced on a bike, or even watched more than snippets of Tour de France. I haven't yet had cancer but have contributed more directly to the cause of fighting it than buying a bracelet. Last year I supported my wife Barbara through her successful fight.

My armwear honors an event that has been part or me since... well, since before there was a me. This is the Drake Relays wristwatch.

For most of that track meet's nearly century-long history the watch has served as its big prize. Winners at Drake don't talk of "taking a gold" but of "getting a watch."

These aren't running watches. They have hands, not digital numbers.

These aren't Rolexes but can't be bought for any price. Only the athletes who win at Drake receive them, plus the few officials who work harder than any athlete.

I ran at Drake a dozen times but never came close to winning a watch. My best finish was second in the 1961 high school mile, but even winner Don Prichard collected only a medal. Kids our age weren't eligible for watches then, and still aren't.

An uncle of mine did win a Drake Relays watch 75 years ago. Charles Henderson, a sprinter for Iowa State College, wore it proudly for the rest of his long life.

None of his three brothers ever competed at Drake, but all were fans. Together the brothers' attendance at the Relays totaled hundreds of years.

My dad never owned a Relays watch for his volunteer work at the meet. He kept statistics there, teaming with his older son for a few years before leaving all of those duties Mike, who continued that work for almost 40 years.

Mike never ran a race at the Drake Relays, and likely never even walked a full lap around that track. But he did earn a watch --maybe several of them, though we only found this one from 2004 among the belongings left behind when he passed away last December. I inherited it.

Wearing this watch keeps me in closer touch with Uncle Chuck and the Hendersons who saw him win at Drake 75 years ago... and with my dad who toiled at the Relays for most of his last decade... and with my coach, Bob Karnes, and the winning I wasn't good enough to do for him in the 1960s... and with Elliott Evans, who did win there long before becoming my brother-in-law... and with my cousin Bruce Henderson, whose high school teams have recently won relay titles at Drake.

Most of all this watch connects me, whenever I wear it, with my mother and brother. The 2004 Drake Relays was the last for both of them. Mom died just three days after it ended in that year. Mike didn't quite get through that same year.

All the other watches in my collection keep better time in seconds, minutes and hours than the one from Drake. But this watch alone keeps me in touch with the years, decades and lives I've known.

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