Only 5 yards remained in the boys 1,600 meters state championship Friday when Kaden Eaton’s brain began to have a disagreement with his body.
With thousands of fans screaming, a host of challengers poised to pass and a medal on the line, the Columbus North senior’s brain was screaming, “Move your bloomin’ feet.”
The body, meanwhile, had other ideas. Its desire was to fall.
That’s when a champion’s will takes over, and Eaton is every bit a champion no matter what place he finished at the Robert C. Haugh Track & Field Complex at Indiana University.
His iron will struck a quick compromise with his body, which was going down, and Eaton somehow caught himself and fell across the finish line in sort of a full, body quiver.
A volunteer ran to his side, but of course, there was nothing a volunteer could do at that particular moment. How do you stop an alien from beating up a runner from the inside out?
At least that is how it looked. Eaton, along with others just like him, struggled to bring some air back into his lungs.
The process usually involves twisting the body into yoga-like positions. That must free up the air tubes, and it seemed to be working.
Eaton appeared to love the torture, which is ... well ... whacked, at least to those watching. Then again, those in the stands are not the ones strewn with piano-wire muscles.
We’re the ones eating kettle corn, Dippin’ Dots and third-of-a-pound cheeseburgers. Believe, there are times, such as the finish of the boys 1,600, that being a spectator seems like a good gig.
Then again, it took only a minute before they were leading Eaton to a different line. He had to pick up the ninth-place medal, also the last one given to contestants.
Every athlete who earned a spot to the 111th annual Boys Indiana High School Athletic Association Track and Field State Finals accomplished something incredible. Those who earned a medal along with that honor, well, they can only tell the rest of us how it feels.
Being great just isn’t easy. It takes incredible work and, yes, courage when the time arrives.
Eaton’s time was right after the second lap of his four-lap 1600-meter race. He came into the race with the third-best time among the 27 entrants. With different runners trying to set the pace and then collapsing, the safe move would have been to sit back and wait for a big run at the end.
His problem was that he knew the runners directly behind them, and he knew they had a better closing kick. It was time to play it safe, or go for it.
Anyone who has been around Columbus North running coach Rick Weinheimer knows that running scared is not an option. Not being an insider, my best description would be that those who aren’t willing to risk everything on a run will not experience anything valuable.
Eaton had his own explanation Saturday. “Today was my last chance to run my hardest,” he said.
So he ran hard and took the lead. If you happened to reside in Columbus, followed North track or had some connection to Eaton or the program, your heart jumped up into your throat at that moment. The kid was risking everything, but wow!
Heading into the bell lap, though, the stress of the lead and the talent following got the best of Eaton, who started to give way. The first runner, eventual winner Joe Murphy of Lawrence North, passed him, and the second, and the third.
In the stands, those who loved Eaton, including his parents Nathan and Anna, and all those North backers, had to be counting the runners. Four, five, six passed.
Only nine medals, and that darned line was still so far away. Seven. Eight.
Some how, some way, he held ninth in 4:18.30, with a quiver.
“I wanted to feel like I left it all on the track,” Eaton said.
Believe me, you did.