A Grand Slam, a deflection, and a marathon: Three athletic feats I’ll never forget

Shoulder to shoulder with greatness (L to R: Aleksandra, me, Sarah, Ben)

There are countless lists of great athletic feats, almost all of which happened on a big stage and were viewed by thousands or even millions of people. I, too, have seen my share of great moments on television and in person.

I would rather, however, reflect on the amazing things I have seen in person. There is something particularly special about athletes who perform at a high level in relative anonymity. Here, then, are three feats I witnessed, ranging from 1975 to 2017, which have left an indelible impression on me.

  1. Carl Lacy Morrow’s Grand Slam — In my junior high school, the best athlete, without question, was Phil Melton. He was a star in football, basketball, and baseball. Before he was due to enroll in our high school, Ben L. Smith High, which had a poor reputation compared to its cross-town rival, Page High, Melton moved to the Page district. As you might expect, this did not go over well with the Smith Golden Eagles. This is the context for my first favorite memory from 1975. Page and Smith were playing baseball, with the Page Pirates leading 3–0 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Phil Melton was on the mound. Improbably, Smith managed to get the bases loaded with two outs. This brought Carl Lacy Morrow up-to-bat. Carl Lacy was from a poor section of town. He was the shortest player on the field, and also the toughest. When Melton hung a curve ball, Morrow sent it over the wall for a walk-off grand slam. It was transcendental and seemed to be a victory for everything good in life.
  2. A injury-preventing dive — Once, around 1983, I was playing Ultimate Frisbee in a pick-up game with some excellent players. On the side of the field sat a friend, Carol, with her baby. At some point in the game, the disc sailed low and fast toward Carol’s face (and also toward the baby’s face). At that point, a fellow who I remember but whose name I’ll never know, dove over the blanket where they were sitting. Somehow, completely laid-out horizontal in mid-air, he swatted away the disc and prevented a certain injury, before landing in a summersault on the other side of the blanket. It was quick and perhaps remembered only by me. But it was an amazing move, again something I’ll never forget.
  3. Which brings me to the most recent event which happened just this past weekend. Three friends — Ben, Sarah, and Aleksandra — had been preparing for the Richmond Marathon for months. Ben would be running his first marathon and we had the feeling it would be something special. Sarah had thoughts of a Boston Marathon qualifying time, which seemed at once both audacious and entirely realistic. And Aleksandra had a number of injuries, illnesses, and circumstances which vexed her training. As we tracked their progress, it was clear that the day would not be disappointing. What I witnessed was three friends and athletes who gave everything they had that day. That they met their goals was important. That they executed their plan was essential. That they inspired is forever.

This list is short and spans a lifetime. If it remains at three items, that will be fine. What each of these have in common is a timelessness, a kind of perfection, and a transcendent quality I will remember forever.

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