Forest Trail

  It was dark at 6:30 a.m. and 26 degrees when I pulled up to Massie Cottage to pick up “Croc” for his first half-marathon. I handed him his headlamp and race number. I’ve been jogging with Elk Hill youth for almost 15 years, and Croc is like no other youth I’ve ever run with. While training for this race,

he ran miles in Crocs — hence his nickname. Often, he would lap me.
   The course traversed a rugged, 14-mile trail that was primarily used by mountain bikers. I’d hoped that Croc would have a chance to podium in his age group, but the only categories were “men” and “women.”

   At the starting line, we were surrounded by serious runners wearing hi-tech shorts and expensive shoes. I looked down at Croc’s beat-up basketball Jordans. The laces only went up three eyes, leaving his shoes virtually untied. He was still wearing his winter coat.

   Finally, the bullhorn sounded, and the racers sprinted into the pitch-black woods. Many were tripping and falling over the roots, rocks, and obstacles on the course.

   The sun rose. Around mile 10, the pain set in. I, like other runners, slowed my pace to a jog. When I heard cheering, I knew I was close to the finish line. Croc was there, waiting. I asked him how he did. “Third,” he said with a grin, and I congratulated him. Then, he smiled wider. “I won,” he said.

   I was incredibly proud. I was even prouder when Croc explained to me that he would have had more separation from the second-place finisher, but he’d stopped to help him up after a fall.

   Everyone cheered him and patted him on the back. A racer who knew that I worked for Elk Hill pulled me aside and asked for Croc’s shoe size, so he could buy him a good pair of shoes.

   Four days later at my son’s soccer practice, I was approached by a mom I knew. She asked me if I’d heard about the boy who’d won the race in Jordans and a winter coat. I played coy and told her no. I wanted to hear her version of this legend in the making.