By Douglas B. Moreland
Tim Reuther was the last kid to best me in a foot race from my school. It was the 50-yard dash at the end of fourth grade, June 1968.
I inched him out for the title the next year, and then we both found a groove in running longer distances. When we raced in middle school I always managed to beat him. No one else was close to us.
We were best friends during those years. Hanging out in the summer, coming of age in all the ways boys should. It was easy to be friends with Tim. He was kind, sincere, smart, gentle and had drive. All qualities I admired.
We learned the value of training for races and the results showed. Tim had talent and more importantly, what distance runners fear most in their fellow competitors – guts.
Tim, for reasons unclear to me, seemed to lose his way with running in high school. He didn’t seem have the interest to train over the summer or get a pair of real running shoes (they were costly then).
We drifted apart, and after our freshman year I saw him not having what it “takes” to run. I persisted with the sport and it led to much success.
Even though Tim wasn’t running, I feared his return to the sport. It motivated me.
I graduated high school as one of the premier distance runners in the country (4:14 mile), but personally I thought Tim had more ability. I massaged my ego by telling myself he was just not as “mentally tough.”
Having remained in Western New York for my profession, I would often run into high school friends or competitors. Running inevitably came up in conversation. My thoughts took me back, wondering what happened to Tim.
I found out a few years ago when attending the reunion for Iroquois Central High School, Class of 1976. Upon entering the venue, a slightly full, pleasant classmate approached me and identified himself as my former middle school BFF. His kind eyes gave him away.
After finishing the pleasantries, we drifted back four decades and I asked Tim why he lost his enthusiasm for running. His response was casual, deferential, unassuming ... and it unwittingly shamed me. He was from a single-parent home and by his senior year his mom was disabled, and he was working full time at a grocery store after school.
“For some time” he wryly said, “it was the only money we had coming into the house. I guess it built character.”
I was embarrassed. I judged and condemned my friend without facts, something I proscribe with my kids. I also tell them it’s never too late to come clean. My chance to right this was the following night. Tim deserved better. I hunted him down and offered an awkward apology. With class and grace he accepted.
Before we build up our guard, and realize that some facets of our personality are not for public consumption, we expose ourselves to our peers, and no one knows us better.
Those admirable traits I noticed 40 some years ago in him proved resilient. I thought I knew Tim, and I did, but I just didn’t understand that the vicissitudes of life can hide these noble qualities from the untrained eye.
I was grateful to set the record straight for both of us. There are still lessons for me to learn, and relearn. We all have unfinished business out there somewhere, and it’s never too late to put it to rest.