Monday, June 20, 2016

My Captain

I can't say that I knew Robert Peterson very well.

We were both members of the 1984 DuPont Senior High School Bulldogs football team. He was a co-captain, and I was basically not much more than a dummy holder in practice and just lucky to be there. Yet I have one very distinct memory of Robert for which I will always be grateful.

New to the team, I had gone through some relatively minor hazing incidents. No, I was not physically brutalized or anything close to it. What's the best way to put this? It was just ... stupid stuff that I had to endure. That I know of, Robert was not involved in any way, shape, form or fashion. He certainly didn't seem to be the type.

The head coach asked me to lead the team in a pre-game devotional one Friday night. Who? Me? I was scared to death. Was this going to make things worse?

In the end, I decided I didn't care.

What I said that night is gone, lost to the more than three decades that have passed. What I do know is this. Robert Peterson ... the Robert Peterson, co-captain of the team that I'd wanted so badly to be a part of ... came to me afterward, patted me on the back and said that I'd done a good job. That was good enough for me.

Robert was a defensive tackle, the same position at which I was listed in the program. That meant that I almost never got to play. He was tough and tenacious, a ... well ... bulldog on the football field if ever there was one. If he was ahead of me on the depth chart, I was okay with not getting into many games. He deserved it.

That's Robert, Number 60, third from the left on the second row. I'm Number 73, same row, second from the right, and trying to look tough ... or squinting into the sun, whichever the case might actually have been.

From what I understand, Robert went on to med school after high school and became a physician in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Living life the way we were all supposed to, he was married and had two beautiful daughters.

Then came that awful Facebook post the other day from Kenny Hunt, another member of that long-ago football squad. Robert had lost his life, and if subsequent comments to Kenny's post were accurate, he had become yet another victim to that God-forsaken killer ... cancer.

I completed my first sprint triathlon on May 22. As I crossed the finish line, I had no way of knowing that Robert had just two days to live. I wish I'd been aware of the situation. I would've done the race for him, and at the very least have worn my trusty DuPont Bulldogs T-shirt in his honor.

Although I had not seen Robert since that night in June 1985 that we graduated, his passing has hit me hard. I lost my mom to cancer when she was just 47. Robert was 49.

I'm 48.

So here's the deal. I have an humble request. Let's call it the Robert Peterson Memorial Bulldog Challenge. Do something ... anything ... to take better care of yourself.

Quit smoking.

If you've never done a 5k, commit right now ... this very second ... to doing one. It doesn't matter if you walk every single step and finish dead last. Just do it.

If you've done a 5k, step up to a 10k.

If you've completed a 10k, go for the gold and do a half marathon.

If you've done a half marathon ... forget it. I would never suggest that anyone compete in a full marathon. Uh-uh. No way. No how. So ... if you've done a half ... do a sprint triathlon.

Then try a longer one.

Whatever you choose to do, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and ... do ... not ... quit.

I have no idea if Robert ever ran ... or visited a gym ... or continued to play sports of any sort ... after high school. But the sad and terrible fact is that he no longer can do any of those things, so let's do it for him.

This is for you, my captain.

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