A. J. Windless
Winning an Airplane
How I Won an Airplane
Inspired by my brother's example I ran my first mile when I was 11 years old. As a senior he was running the half mile and the mile for his high school track team, regularly winning first place in the half mile. In the last of his one mile races, a distance he only began running halfway through the season, he "figured it out" and took first place with a time of 4:59, probably the only sub 5 minute mile in the county that season.

Inspired by his victories, and without a word to the wise, I set about to run a mile myself. I measured exactly how far one rotation of my bicycle wheel would go. I then walked my bicycle down our long nieghborhood driveway and up Ford Road counting each rotation.  I turned left down a second neighborhood driveway that goes through the trees just inside the forest as it ran along the edge of the field, and eventually out onto Vine Road. I only stayed on Vine Road briefly before entering a dark hemlock forest continuing to count my rotations along an old abondoned logging road. This road exited the forest onto the vacated farm fields which were below and behind our house. Here I traversed the fields over what we called "The Old Jalopy Road", a fitting name since it wasn't suitable for any vehicle other than an old jalopy. A couple of times, however,  my dad did so cautiously bounce in and out of its rugged ruts when the family was late for  Sunday morning mass as it saved us the trip all the way out to the highway and around to church the long way.

After a few changes I got my track to come out to exactly one mile, and with my cozy little cross country course all measured out, the next day I got dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, stared at my watch, and took off running as the minute hand reached for the twelve. This was the first mile I had ever run and it took me six minutes, little did I know that I had started a journey that would last for many years and would see me running thousands of miles.

When I told my brother that I had run a mile he didn't believe me. When I told him I ran it in six minutes he was so skeptical that he had to see this for himself. So he set about measuring a track of 220 yards on our neighborhood driveway. I would have to run from the end of Dixon's property all the way down to Ford Road and back four times, never mind that this make shift track had a significant hill right in the middle of it. Metamorphizng into big brother the track coach, he decided to throw in some compelling motivation. He loved modeling airplanes and would spend months building a plane out of balsa wood, usually with a wing span of about five or six feet. He would cover the wings with silk, seal the silk with a special type of modeling lacquer, and complete the entire project with the perfect craftmanship of a true artist. He would then insert a powerful little engine and fly these planes in circles at the end of what we called "control lines", a double set of wires that connected to the plane through the  wings and controlled the elevators. The plane would fly up or down depending on which way you pointed the handle, and in this way he could pilot the craft to perform stunts, such as loops, figure eights, or even four leaf clovers. My big project of running a mile now became Dan's big project of modeling me into a real runner. He told me that if I could run a mile in less than 6 minutes he would give me his Thunderbird, a beautiful yellow and purple plane that he had flown 80 times without crashing, which to me at the time seemed as impressive as the 80 dogfight victories that the "Bloody Red Baron" recorded high in the skies over World War I.

We discussed these plans for a few days, then up and down the road I ran, having to stop and turn around each time I came to the end of the course, as if I were  running "wind sprints" on a basketball court. At least I didn't have to reach down and touch the ground each time. Dan stood at the starting line holding the watch and calling out the time to me at the end of each lap. I finished with a time of 5:50 and proudly took possession of a yellow and purple Thunderbird while Daniel became the proud sibling whose 11 year old little brother ran the mile in less than 6 minutes. Every time one of his high school friends came along, he would introduce me as the little brother who ran the mile in 5:50, making quite an impression on most of them, eliciting comments like, "Wow, watch out for this guy when he gets to high school!"  At a time when I really needed it, comments like these did a lot to improve my self esteem.

(Above photo: If I said that this photo was a picture of my older brother winning the mile in his senior year, the picture would fit the story perfectly and everyone including our own family members would probably believe it. My brother, on the other hand, would recognize the coach behind me as his senior classmate and a starting member of their basketball team. Six years later Dave Geitner would be the track coach and it would be I, the younger brother, who would be on the track.)
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