Running after Werezak

By Wagamese, Richard | Canadian Dimension, November-December 2009 | Go to article overview

Running after Werezak


Wagamese, Richard, Canadian Dimension


I BECAME a long distance cross-country runner when I was fifteen. Back then my life was filled with turmoil and running presented me with a sense of freedom that allowed me to breathe. My adoptive home, non-native and ill-prepared for an abused native boy, was difficult. Running allowed me to expel the anger, hurt, confusion, and doubt I struggled with, and every heaved breath felt like an answer somehow.

When the notice went up on the school bulletin board, I turned up for the tryouts. We ran three miles and I finished in the top five. I'd never been on a school team before and the day I was handed my singlet, shorts, and spikes was a small glory. My family was a hockey family and didn't understand the fascination with running, that it was a sport. But I felt like a winner.

We ran every night after school. Our coach, Mr. Waite, was a competitive runner and the drills we did were hard, running in sand, up and down the steepest hills in the area, and half a dozen half-mile wind sprints. He believed in training the body to its peak then resting a day before each race. Every practice was a test. But I loved the feel of running and it never seemed liked work.

There was a local runner named Ken Werezak who ran for our rivals the Lakeport Lakers. Werezak was a legend. He'd never been beaten and he was big and strong and set a pace that crushed anyone who tried to stick with him. Beating Werezak and the Lakers was everyone's dream and all the team could talk about in the locker room.

When I ran I imagined myself running after Werezak, chasing him on a long climb up a hill, passing him and coasting on to victory to the hard cheers of my teammates. Every practice session I imagined running after Werezak and beating him.

I trained hard. I ran faster and longer than anyone else. I ran extra sessions alone in the dark at night and first thing every morning. I ran home from school and I ran in the hallways. I ran and chanted his name under my breath. Werezak, Werezak, Werezak. I was filled with a burning desire to pass him, to see him at my shoulder struggling to maintain the pace that I set.

At the first race a teammate pointed him out and I lined up beside him. He was taller than me, heavier, blonde, and very intense looking. I eyed him carefully, gritted my teeth, and prepared for the running.

When the gun went off I stayed right on his shoulder for the first mile. It was a horrendous pace. The next closest runners were a hundred yards behind us. He looked at me, maybe a little surprised to find someone so close and when he sped up after that first mile I stuck to him. We ran up hill and down, faster than I'd ever run before and the runners who lined the course to watch were excited to see someone actually challenging the champion. …

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