Saturday, February 6, 2010

They'll Think That You Can Fly!

I was ten years old when I saw the made-for-TV movie, "Billie" starring Patty Duke. A goofy little predictable flick about a high school girl who wanted to join the boy's track team because of her amazing speed. She attributed her fast running to "Having The Beat", timing her strides to a fast Rock Music song she played in her head. Remember, this was way before I-Pods or even personal cassette recorders.

For some unexplained reason, this movie stuck in my head for a long time. To the city park or several friend's houses, it was several blocks. I often ran to where I was going. This is before we called leisurely running, Jogging. I thought of a tune in my head as I began to trot along. The beat would pick up and so would my pace. I was thoroughly convinced that this method made me extremely fast. Concentrating on the melody of the song made me less focused on my running and it DID actually seem to work.

I kept this little "secret" to myself, figuring it gave me an edge over any of my buddies in a race. Ten year olds frequently challenge each other to all sorts of physical skill competitions. Kind of like young Tiger cubs testing each other before going out on their own. Don't mess with me, Boys, I got The Beat! Never mind that my friends were always slower than me, before I had my new-found Super Powers, I now had great confidence that nobody could out race me.

About this time, the advertising assaults began for Red Ball Jets and PF Flyer Tennis Shoes. The media blitz touted these shoes with jingles that extolled the virtues of owning a pair that would "Make you run so fast, they'll thing that you can fly!" Needing new tennis shoes, I remarkably down-played the hype for these shoes until my dad suggested a pair in the shoe store. "Well, if you think they're a good shoe, I'll try a pair.", I said, as I held my breath. Dad must have been subjected to the Subliminal Advertising and agreed to buy them for me. Who could beat me now with my new Red Ball Jets? I felt invincible!

You would think these shoes were rocket-powered the way I began streaking through the neighborhood. I'm sure they didn't add one mile-per-hour to my speed. It was all a mind-over-matter situation in my head. As always, a dose of reality is necessary to bring someone back to earth. My dose was received one afternoon at the high school track. The track team was practicing after school and I began trotting around the track. Every time I caught up with someone running slowly, I'd run beside them for a few seconds, look over at them, then take off in a sprint. Obviously, these varsity team runners weren't accepting the challenge of this "Speed Racer" in his Red Ball Jets.

Finally, a guy realized what I was trying to do and began matching me, stride for stride. "C'mon, Rocket Man, stay up with me!", the kid said, " You can run faster than that!". He literally began to run backwards and began patting me hard on top of the head, while imploring me to run faster. I couldn't keep the pace and began to fade way back in the pack of runners who had now caught up to us to witness this spectacle. I felt humiliated. My fantasy of being The World's Fastest Runner was over. I had visions of being Bob Hayes, who just won the Gold Medal in the '64 Olympic Games in the 100 meter Dash and was billed as " The World's Fastest Human".

I lost my fascination with running after that episode at the track. All though I did my share of laps while conditioning for other sports, I never ran competitively. There were several boys that were faster than me during my school years, with or without Red Ball Jets. Regardless of my footwear or the tune I was playing in my head, some of these guys just whizzed right past me. Hmmmm, I wonder if I can get a refund on those Red Ball Jets? "...they'll think that you can fly!" Yeah, right.


  1. I remember buying Red Ball Jets from Ben Franklin's 5 & 10 store in Hubbard. Didn't they have a rubber cap on the toe?

    You were probably a good runner and could have run track if someone there that day had taken you aside and offered the idea.

  2. You're right, Diane. They did have a rubber cap on the toe. also, a little red ball at the base of the heal was stamped there so you could show everybody they were authentic Red Ball Jets!

  3. What a jerk that kid was! I hate older kids that bully younger kids... You could always outrun me, Daddy, even when I was setting records running middle school track!