Of Many Things

I’m not a jock —if by that we mean a muscled guy who watches every Superbowl and never misses a World Series game. People like that can throw a forward pass, sink a set shot from center court, hit a golf ball straight and remember the statistics on Tom Brady and Enos Slaughter. In grammar school, when we chose sides for basketball or touch football, I was the last guy chosen. In high school at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, I was cut from the swimming team. I was slow. In the 1962 basketball game between the students and faculty at McQuaid High School in Rochester, where I was teaching, one of my Jesuit teammates advised me, when they finally put me into the game, that if I ever got the ball, I should get rid of it quickly. Somehow the ball bounced into my hands, and I threw it right away to the first adult I saw on the court. It was the ref.

My father, a World War I hero and journalist, was determined that my brother Dave and I would be able to “take care of ourselves.” So beginning when we were 3, he put us on horseback, taught us to swim in the ocean and to paddle a canoe. He knelt down to be our size and had us put on the boxing gloves and fight him. Life Lesson No. 1: Don’t let anyone push you around. Our parents sent us to a summer camp with 35 horses, tennis and fencing lessons, boxing, campfires and a Saturday morning ritual where the whole camp soaped up and bathed in the lake.


At St. Joe’s I went out for crew. Every day the eight of us would run the mile or so from the Prep down to the Schuylkill River, row up and down under the great bridges, then run a few extra miles before jogging home. At 17 I was in the best shape of my life. That summer I went to Alaska to work on the railroad but was fired after two weeks for being too young.

That year I began to understand what it means to be at home in one’s body. By competitive standards, unlike Dave, I was not an athlete; but I swam better than most people I knew, and when I got out of the army and joined the Jesuits, I began to take running seriously. It was a double grace: running alone helped me pray; running with a companion formed friendships that endure today.

At McQuaid I hung around track practice and, at 30, trained enough to run a mile in seven minutes. But my breakthrough came when college students, whom I had challenged to read more books, challenged me to push myself physically. When I was dean at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, a student signed me up for a half-marathon.

At Holy Cross, where I was also dean, a student in the residence where I was prefect tackled me in the hall, pinned me down and ordered me to run in the New York Marathon with him. So we did it. I had heard there were two kinds of people in the world: those who had run a marathon and those who had not. I ran four more in Boston and Jersey City.

One night 12 years ago I woke up with a sharp pain in my arm and chest. Two discs were impinging on my spinal cord. Within days I was on the operating table. I miss running terribly. I take hourlong walks every morning from America House to Times Square or Central Park; and when young men and women go running by, I ache. I swim a few minutes almost daily and take long bike rides along the Hudson River on warm weekends.

If I had my wish, every student in a Jesuit school would have to learn to swim 100 yards and be able to run a mile in 10 minutes. That way fewer young people would drown or suffer the damage that comes with being overweight. And all would know the joy of diving into an ocean wave or a long run along the beach.

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6 years 11 months ago
Even though the author misses running, he takes long walks which are also beneficial and weight-curbing.  Out this way, San Francisco is known for its Bay to Breakers marathon which draws runners from all over our country and other nations.
Perhaps you have run this race.  A Jesuit priest friend has taken part in the S.F.
Marathon and other marathons wherever he is posted.  Knee problems occur, but he keeps on running.

Thanks for a lively article.   Anna M. Seidler
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 11 months ago
As an ex-runner who now swims as much as I can, but misses the rhythm and calm (and convenience) of running, it has taken awhile, but I have finally settled into a daily practice of yoga.  No, it doesn't burn the calories like running did, but it disciplines my mind and body in a way that is more fine-tuned (subtle?), gentle, and conscious than running.  I delight in feeling a little twinge and awakening of a muscle that I never knew was there.  This awakening consciousness seems to carry over into my eating, so the calorie thing kind of balances out (I eat a lot less), and am, on the whole, quieter in mind and body.
Anthony LoFrisco
6 years 11 months ago

I enjoyed your article immensely in part because it rekindled memories of  my connection with running and my youth. I was a member of the St. Michael’s Diocesan High School Track Team in Brooklyn. I recall vividly the day I tried out for the team and made it! Pride swelled in my chest—until I realized that everyone who tried out made the team. There wasn’t a whole lot of competition. Warm bodies were needed. I was a member of the 60 yard, 100 yard and 220 yard squads. Because of my size (width not height) I was one of two freshmen shot putters.


The workouts were brutal. We actually had to sprint the full 60, 100 and 220 yards repeatedly during practice. The 220 was a killer. I saw no point in it at all. I could hardly catch my breath at the end of the practice run. And for what? For the privilege of doing it again? At one practice session, when I was dead tired, I was told to fill in on the second leg of a 4x220 yard practice relay race. I went to the dressing room instead.

So the first man had to run an extra leg. Big deal. He was thin. He was a miler. Besides, his team won the race. I learned a lesson that day: No harm no foul


By senior year I had never won a race. To my utter amazement the coach put me on St Michael’s No.1 relay team in another 4 x 220 relay.I was assigned the No.2 leg. The race was during the CHSAA championship, a well-attended meet at Madison Square Garden. When I got the baton we were in last place. The cheering propelled me to run the fastest in my life by far. When I handed off the baton we were in first place, but my teammate dropped it, the same teammate who was forced to run 440 yards when I walked off the track four years earlier. He didn’t drop it purposely. At least I don't think so.


Unlike you I found no serenity in running perhaps that’s because I didn’t do any running. Walking, running and all forms of exercise cause discomfort of one sort or another—or even injury. That’s why, at all costs, they are to be avoided. When the temptation of exercise or walk challenges you, turn your thoughts to spaghetti and meatballs. It has worked for me. I will soon be 79. I take more than a dozen pills a day I am 5’-8” down from 5’-9.” I weigh 220 pounds, up from 140 or 150 running weight. I skied up until two years ago. I ran a mile in 1951 as part of my warm up, and had nothing but bad thoughts every step of the way. I think I’ll have a dish of linguine aglio e olio.


6 years 10 months ago
What a delight to discover that the man whose articles and reviews (as well as the book, "From Dante to Dead Man Walking") I enjoy is also a man in love with running. Like you, I still love running, even though I can't do it anymore. I started running when I was 40 and stopped at age 72 because of some heart problems. I, too, still ache when, on long walks, I see others running. I, too, found running to be an activity that fostered prayer. I loved racing most of all: from the mile to the marathon. As much as I miss running and racing, however, I am profoundly grateful that I was able to be a runner for so many years.


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