Redeeming A College Defeat, 25 Years Later
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Jeffrey Mann was once a hard driving college athlete. But his dreams were dashed when he suffered a series of injuries. He managed to make it to the conference finals in the 400-meter hurdle race, but came in dead last. Twenty-five years later, he decided that failure was not an option. Jeffrey Mann is a religion professor at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. And when we spoke with him, post-race, he told us his return to the track wasn't exactly by design.
JEFFREY MANN: It wasn't really planned. I had been exercising and working out and doing a little bit of running on my own. And I ended up in a conversation with the head coach, here, of the track team. And as we were talking, he found out a little bit about my history and where I was at and told me that there was a possibility for me to compete in a Division III intercollegiate competition.
SIMON: But that sounds theoretical. You took it seriously.
MANN: I think I was a little bit overly optimistic when I first accepted the challenge. But I thought how much could I possibly have slowed down in 25 years? And so I decided to take on the challenge and compete as a - what they call an unattached runner at a college meet.
SIMON: A lot of training, yes?
MANN: Yes. Actually what happened was, originally I was going to try to do it in 2013. But I had to work a little too quickly, and I ended up pulling a hamstring and so decided to delay it one year. And so I spent the better part of this last year in training, preparing for the race this spring, 2014.
SIMON: Professor Mann, when people are in their 40's, they can pull a hamstring reaching for the toothbrush.
MANN: Yes, and so I had to be very careful. That was my one big fear. And so I had to be very careful in my training and warming up and preparation to make sure I could minimize the chances of that happening.
SIMON: Professor Mann, with respect, but was deciding to run in a, you know, what after all is a college conference event, your equivalent of getting a little red convertible?
MANN: (Laughing) I suppose it probably is, just a lot cheaper and better for my health.
SIMON: That's a great answer. So day of the race, you show up. What happened?
MANN: I got in the blocks, and when we were told to move into the set position, that seemed to last longer than I had remembered from 25 years ago.
MANN: I was actually wavering in the blocks. And I saw on the video that some sort of bad form. But they fired the gun and I took off and things were going OK. They weren't going great, my strides were a little bit off. But I never hit an off-leg on a hurdle. As I went around the second turn and came into the final 100 meters, I looked to my left and realized that I was right in the middle of the pack. And that really surprised me. And at that point, I figured as long as I finish, this is a success. And as I got to the very end, right before the finish line, I glanced up at the scoreboard which showed the clock running. And realized that I ended up with a pretty good time. And so I crossed the finish line. I beat my personal goal by two seconds and managed to beat one other runner in the race.
SIMON: Well, that raises this question professor. You're - I mean, you're a teacher right?
SIMON: You have devoted your professional life to helping, encouraging, enriching the lives of youngsters, right?
MANN: I would like to think so.
SIMON: Well, what about that poor kid that, you know, couldn't run as fast (laughing) as his religion professor?
MANN: I feel for him. But now he's got a chance to live down his demons in the years ahead. I mean, that's the nature of competition. There's going to be a winner and there's going to be a loser. And that's always something that we have to figure out how to deal with in our own journeys, in our own efforts to cultivate who we are.
SIMON: Jeffrey Mann, professor of religion and a runner at Susquehanna University. Thanks very much for joining us.
MANN: Thank you very much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.