It’s been an interesting summer. I have been alternating between worry and pride over our grandson going off to Colorado State University. Naturally this would lead me to thinking back on my own time at Clemson. By coincidence over the summer, I was contacted through LinkedIn by Connor Davis who lives just up the road in Monument. He is an incoming freshman this year to my alma mater. His brother had graduated from there and I believe ran Cross Country and Track. Conner was very excited to be headed off to Clemson. He set himself a project of interviewing as many Clemson alumni as he could in the area (and along his drive to South Carolina) and finding out why they loved the school. The link above is the interview I gave.
As I sat in a local coffee shop being filmed by Conner and his father, I found myself saying that I fell in love with Clemson not for the school itself, but for my friends that I made. This surprised me as I love the school and particularly the Mechanical Engineering and Math departments. I found most professors to be kind, helpful, and engaged with the students (don't ask me about Ernesto Suarez or a particular physics proffesor). And dorm life in Johnstone Dormitory was a blast. But instead of talking about the university, I talked about trying out for (and ultimately failing to make) the Cross Country team.
This experience lead me to Ian Davidson (introduced to me by Coach Colson as someone who could help me find people to train with). Ian was a Clemson graduate, former Cross Country runner, and legend (to me at least) in the South Carolina running community. Ian is a great person who immediately took me into his circle, introducing me to other runners some of whom had run for Clemson when they were students, others that hadn’t, and others that were still in school. It was running with them that really made me love my time at Clemson. Those friendships were and are something incredibly special to me.
It wasn’t long after meeting Ian that he introduced me to Eddie Pennebaker who at the time was a school teacher and his soon to be wife Julie Brown who worked in the registrar’s office. Eddie became my partner in crime (both in the running and friendship sense), and if I wasn’t on campus or in a bar I was over at Eddie and Julie’s apartment. That is not to say I wouldn't be found in a bar with Eddie and Julie. Eddie and Ian introduced me to a cast of others whose orbits I fell into as well. These are the characters of my college years: Steve Figueroa, Tommy “Pooh Bear” Williams, Dr. Don Lattore, Tim Stewart, Joe Hammond, Dr. Keith Allen, and Dave “Geerman” Geer. Together we became the Outta Control Track Club (OCTC or OCCT/OTCC/OTTC if you were Pooh Bear). We were a good group of runners, knocking back the miles, knocking back more than our share of beer, and sharing so many good times.
I could tell you a thousand stories of our group. The friendly rivalries with the Clemson Cross Country Team and the Greenville Track Club, mid-week “meetings” at the Study Hall bar where the goal seemed to be drink beer and see who could make me laugh hard enough to fall off my chair, and the many runs and trails and gatherings we held. But I will only bore you with one of those stories that sprang to mind this week as I drifted back to Clemson – The T L Hannah Band Run.
There was a race at T L Hannah High in nearby Anderson, South Carolina (proceeds obviously benefitting the T L Hannah Yellow Jacket Marching Band). Steve Figueroa, Eddy Pennebaker, and I donned our OCTC colors (black and blue baby!) and headed off for Anderson that Saturday morning. I hazily remember the race itself, the road, passing people, being passed, but I do know the three of us all did well. Eddie won the race, Steve won his age group, and I won mine. We were drinking light beer and awaiting the award ceremony when the race director finally came to the mic, and this is where the day became memorable.
The race director began going through gender and age group awards, and for the first and only time I can remember a race director mispronounced all our names. Steve Figueroa was called to the podium as Steve Figeria, Eddie made his way to get his trophy as Eddie Penbauker, and in the ultimate butchery of the day I answered to Teexer Hardel. To this day, when I talk to Eddie he will call me Mr. Hardel, Teexer, or Tex. Perhaps you had to be there but I think of it as universally hilarious.
I am fascinated by how memory works. My grandson leaving us for college primes its pump, a new friend sets it in motion, and then things start tumbling. Without knowing exactly how, I find myself at once in Clemson, in Anderson, in Colorado Springs, and up at CSU. All the years a mix in my head. The summer has sped by and Russell is now enjoying an entirely new experience at Fort Collins which we look forward to hearing about and having him share with us. I hope he has his own version of my college experience. The summer won’t last much longer, but with my memories I can be anywhen and anywhere, and that’s something.