I didn’t expect the phone call. The race was twenty years ago. Sure, there was a lot of hype at the time, but the whole thing soon faded to myth, a legend, a story people told kids to keep them from quitting. And that was cool. Until they asked me to testify.
“I’m sorry… what?”
“Listen, I think we have enough evidence to finally pin this guy.”
“Dude, it’s been twenty years. I’m over it. No one even cares anymore. The race is a fable.”
“But it’s not a fable, Phil! That hare is a cheater and a fraud. And,” he took a deep breath, “we can finally prove it. But I need your help.”
“He didn’t win. I did. So why does it matter?”
“The integrity of the sport. The integrity of sport itself. Doesn’t that matter?”
I hadn’t talked to Reynard since our days at Northwestern, though we had reconnected through Facebook a few years back. He was married—even had a couple of cubs—and he was a partner at his dad’s law firm, Fox, Fox, and Owl. He had been a key player in the Mitchell Report, reaching out to key witnesses who knew which major league players were juicing and which players were clean. It was a watershed case in his career, and it made his name synonymous with the fight against PEDs.
Still, I was happy under my shell of anonymity. I had just been promoted at Terrapin Associates, and I used the extra cash flow to make a down payment on a new house—a brick two-story with a porch. And, on Saturday, I was taking Shelly from accounting to a picnic. At least, if she said yes. I still had to ask her.
“I don’t know, Reynard,” I hesitated. What about Shelly? What about Saturday? There was no way this case was going to be quick or clean. Ironic. Waldemar wasn’t quick and clean either. I was grateful we were having the conversation over the phone instead of face to face. “I don’t want to get mixed up in all of this.”
“It’s too late. You got mixed up in all of this the day you agreed to race Waldemar.”
“That’s below the shell, Rey, don’t you think?”
“Lance. Roger. A-Rod,” Reynard continued, ignoring my rebuttal. “Waldemar belongs in the hall of shame. And we—you and I, Phil—we can put him there.”
I knew Waldemar better than anyone. We had grown up together. We had been friends. Good friends, in fact. Our life trajectories first intersected on the playground, as we stood in front of the firing squad of faster animals who didn’t want to pick us for their teams. We were slow. But while no one was surprised that I lacked agility and speed, they were amused to discover Waldemar did, too. The two of us were glued together, our slowness the epoxy cementing our friendship. But it was worse for Waldemar. Expectations made things difficult.
Everything changed freshman year. Waldemar announced he was going to make the varsity track team. We all laughed. We thought he was joking. But he wasn’t. He broke the school record for the 100, 200, and 400—at tryouts. And then he got faster.
At the time, I hadn’t even heard of doping or performance enhancing drugs. Nobody had. We just figured his body had finally caught up to his genus.
Then he told me.
“What does ‘anabolic’ even mean?” I asked one evening. I had gone to his house for dinner. Lettuce, carrots, radishes—a feast fit for kings. We were sitting on his couch, full and happy.
“I don’t know. But it works. I think it would even help you,” he laughed.
“Isn’t that, like, cheating?”
Waldemar put his hand on my shoulder.
“Phil. I was made to be fast. I’m a hare, for Peter Rabbit’s sake.”
“So? Who says—”
He shook his head, cutting me off. “I’ve got to level the playing field somehow.”
“Yeah, but the needles… Injecting yourself… It seems really messed up.”
Waldemar narrowed his eyes. He jumped up from the couch and pointed to the driveway where his dad’s car was parked. A 1992 Chevy Camaro. Bright red. I couldn’t see his skin beneath his fur, but I imagined it was the same color.
“Do you see that? Do you want my feet to be tacky ornaments hanging from some rearview mirror?" He was yelling now. "Do you?”
“Of course not…” Suddenly, I was terrified. I’d never seen him like this before.
“Then shut up! Cheating? I’m the one who’s been cheated, do you hear me?”
“Get out! Now!”
We stopped talking after that. Waldemar went on to win two state championships in the 100-meter dash and one in the 400. He went to Florida on a full ride. Then he went pro.
Meanwhile, I became a CPA, moved to the city, and joined a community running group. We’d meet on Saturday mornings, run a loop of the park, and then get coffee. Every Saturday, year-round. A group of us even traveled to the Flying Pig Marathon together. We called ourselves the “Slow and Steadies.”
The Slow and Steadies were the reason the infamous race went down in the first place. Waldemar started training at the park at the same time that our group ran. Every week, he’d whoosh past us—all ears and feet—and sneer at our plodding pace.
“Our pace may be slow, but at least it’s our pace!” I yelled, a cryptic reference that was lost on the rest of the group. “And who do you think you are? Even you can be beaten!”
Waldemar choked with patronizing laughter. “By whom? You? I dare you to take me on!”
Week after week this went on. If it had been just me, I wouldn’t have minded. But he was mocking my friends—my running family—and that I would not tolerate.
“I accept!” I yelled at his bushy tail one Saturday morning. “Tomorrow! 7:00 a.m.”
He didn’t answer. He just laughed and bent one ear by way of acknowledgment.
“Phil… What are you doing?” one of my buddies asked.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” another worried.
“I don’t care,” I said. “I’m not gonna put up with it any longer.”
“Do you think you can actually win?”
For years, Waldemar had cheated. But it wasn’t what he gained by doing so—the medals and trophies and accolades—it was what others lost every time he won. Racing is a zero sum contest. Waldemar didn’t just cheat the system; he cheated others. Out of podiums. Out of national anthems. Out of moments. Out of memories.
“This is bigger than winning,” I said.
We were quiet the rest of the run.
Waldemar and I raced the next day. I don’t need to go into details about the outcome. The results are fairly well known.
“You won your race,” Reynard continued over the phone. I had been quiet on the other end of the line for some time. “But what about all those who lost theirs? Unjustly?”
Was I really going to let Waldemar scare—no, bully—me into silence? Was I really going to let fear keep me from fighting for my sport? For those competing in it? If I didn’t say something, who would?
“Okay,” I said. “It’s time to level the playing field.”
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.