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KID_GERIS

Sneak peek at new wrestling book: Buried in the Maple Leaves

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Running with Greatness

 

As the gravel bruises the rubber soles of my sneakers and crunches

beneath the quick rhythmic pounding of my small feet, I can feel

the heat of the high-noon sun licking the top of my head, its

warm breath making it through my thick dirty-blonde hair all

the way down to my scalp. The air is fresh and clean, the sky so

blue it’s almost white. Hills covered in well-manicured grass roll

out away from the road we’re on as far as the eye can see.

“All those hills kinda look like waves in the ocean, except

green instead of blue, don’t you think?” I pant the words in quick

labored breaths as my heartbeat keeps time with my strides.

My dad smiles down at me from behind his glasses; his upper

lip gets lost in his thick jet-black mustache as he grins and his

forehead wrinkles under the mess of curly hair. “It reminds me

of when we went camping at Happy Hills,” he says. I can barely

talk over gasping for air, but he isn’t even winded yet. I nod and

remember Happy Hills. The whole place looked like a rustic

painting in an Amish family’s living room. My dad is right; this

looks just like that countryside surrounding the campground.

The gravel road we’re jogging along runs up and down through

the hills, out into eternity as far as I can tell. The narrow greybrown

lines cut through the green, snaking their way along the


massive grass mounds for miles. I think of the Wizard of Oz and

Dorothy’s yellow brick road.

 

I suck down giant gulps of air and try my hardest to keep pace

with my father. My face is a bubbling furnace now, and my clothes

are soaked through with sweat. My T-shirt and sweatpants cling

to me like a second skin. I can feel beads of perspiration raining

down on my face and the back of my neck from the crown of my

head. My dad, who is wearing his 1976 Olympic sweat suit, only

glistens in the intense sunlight. His hair is barely damp around

his hairline, where shoots of thick black hair sprout into careless

loose curls that bounce as he bobs up and down with every step.

I look up at him the way immigrants looked up to Lady Liberty

upon arriving to Ellis Island; I feel the same pride and joy. He is

a monument that will always symbolize something life-changing

and vital to his family, and his country. The shame is that he has

remained a hidden hero to the latter. Not to me though; I can

feel the intensity and significance of my father every time I am

near him. In my eyes, there is no one greater. I know that at this

moment, I am running with greatness. I feel my lips fall to a

frown when I think of what the world is missing out on having

looked past that.

 

I am only five, and I can hardly stand the penetrating

satisfaction I feel as I run beside my father, a man who has

never overstated anything about himself or his career, although

he represented his country in the Olympic games not once, but

three times. My pounding heart swells as I fall behind a bit and

watch my father’s enormous legs, which are nearly as long as I am

tall, pump up and down rhythmically, his massive feet pounding

the small rocks they come crashing down on top of. I struggle to

keep up with him. He has the legs of a giant, and I’ve not yet even

grown into my own awkward feet.

 

A surge of determination shoots through me, and my legs

begin to work harder—my feet move faster. When I catch up

with my father, I notice that he is no longer running with the ease


he had exhibited when we set off. His breathing, which was slow

and unstrained, has become labored; and his pace slowed. I take

advantage of him finally losing steam and dart ahead without

glancing back. My age is finally an advantage for me. My dad

has strength and size, but I have stamina. I feel a burst of selfsatisfaction

feed my muscles as I think about outrunning my dad,

the Olympian.

 

I’m winning now, I think as I rush past him with a grin. Caught

up in the grandiosity of the moment, I don’t notice that he isn’t

catching up. He isn’t even behind me anymore.

There is only the sound of my own feet slapping the uneven

road now; only the sound my own breathing fills the air around

me. I am alone on the road. I stop running—stop congratulating

myself for a job well-done—and slowly turn around to see where

my dad is and why I can no longer hear his size 14 shoes grinding

pebbles into the loose dirt of the road. When I see him, I nearly

choke on my own heart. Tears mix with the sweat that pours

down my face.

“Dad?” I call out to him. “Dad, what’s wrong?”

 

He is on one knee slumped over at the side of the gravel road,

one hand on the ground, propping himself up. At first glance, he

looks like the image of a stoic football player taking a knee. I see

his other hand clutching his chest and immediately know that

this is something much more ominous than that.

“Dad!” I shout as I take off toward him. The closer I am, the

harder the knot in my stomach feels. Just before I reach him, he

collapses to the ground, like a felled giant in some ancient fable.

He falls hard and doesn’t move once his body has crumpled to the

earth. He suddenly seems so small.

 

“Dad, get up! Please,” I shout as I grab hold of his arms and

yank at him. My tiny hands clench only the smooth polyester

of the Olympic sweat suit as I pull at my fallen father. My body

aches as I tug hard against his 245-pound frame. The colossal

Olympic wrestler is impossible for a five-year-old to move.


His chest rises and falls, but barely. His face is pinched in

pain. The laugh lines have vanished from the corner of his eyes

and his forehead. His large square jaw is snapped tightly closed

like a rusted trap, and his eyes are closed so hard that his eyelids

have nearly disappeared into his deep sockets. I scoop my arms

under his head, the only thing I can manage with my childish

hands, and put it in my lap. We are miles from anything. The

bucolic beauty of the open countryside has become a prison. My

father is nearly lifeless in my lap, and I am helpless. Tears soak

my face. My heart pounds again, but in a different way this time.

Now it throbs not because of the strain of running, but because

it has broken.

 

I move my dad’s head from my lap to the ground so that I can

lay my head down beside his. I stare at his twitching eyelids and

say through my sobs, “Everything will be okay, Dad. I’m going to

get us help.”

 

Resting a hand on my father’s damp hair, I look around us. I

feel the two of us begin to shrink in the vastness of the situation.

There is nothing around us but hills and road—no homes, no

cars, nothing. The roads are still in all directions from the lack of

travel. We may as well be in the middle of the ocean in a canoe.

I scoot my hands beneath my father’s body and cradle him

once as much as I can. I fold the upper part of my body over his

and wrap my arms around him. Squeezing his enormous chest, I

close my eyes and whisper again, “Everything is going to be okay.

I love you, Dad. Everything is okay.”

 


When I opened my eyes, I saw my wife’s peaceful face just inches

from my own. The soft glow of the moonlight bathed the room

in a muted blue. I leaned in and kissed my wife’s cheek. When I

put my head back down, I noticed that my pillowcase was damp.

My throat felt parched and my body more exhausted than when

I had lay down to sleep. I took a deep breath and tried to let the


residual sorrow of the dream waft away into the chilly drafts of

the cool summer night.

 

I glanced at the alarm clock on my bedside table; it was two

thirty in the morning. I lay for a moment to let my mind settle.

I waited for that immense melancholia to dissipate. I wished for

the memory of the dream to fade the way the smell of smoke

and ash finally fades from an area after a devastating fire. After

half an hour, I gave up. My thoughts were fixated on my dad, so

I went down to our living room and found my father’s wrestling

scrapbooks. As I opened the first of the battered books, the aged

cardboard and adhesive pages covered in thin plastic smelled just

like I imagine nostalgia would smell. The albums smelled like

memories of times I never had of a man I adored more than

any other.

 

These scrapbooks told the story of a man in a way I never

knew him. I knew Henricus Theodorus Geris, or Harry, as a

loving father and a devoted husband. He never spoke much about

his days as a wrestler and rarely talked about the three Olympics

that he participated in. These articles, which I had never really

taken the time to read thoroughly, told me a story I never heard

from my dad, who was never caught up in his own accolades. He

was gone now though; a heart attack took him down for good as

he was unloading wrestling mats at an elementary school. I took

peace knowing that he died doing what he loved most. He wasn’t

there to answer my questions anymore, though, and I wanted to

know more about my dad. I wanted to know Harry Geris fully,

outside of the role he played to me as a doting father. Being a

father myself, there was something that drew me to the narrative

of my own dad.

 

I pulled the scrapbooks from the cabinet in the living room

one by one and stacked them on the leather ottoman. These

books covered my father’s life from the time he started wrestling

as a teen until he left the wrestling mat for good, at least in a

competitive way. Once I had each of the scrapbooks down, I slid






the stack off the leather ottoman into my arms and dropped them

down beside my recliner. I opened the first book and began to

read an article that was yellowed with age and worn thin from

time. The color of the pages made me think of the teeth of a

veteran smoker. The first article was dated 1967. It was from my

dad’s junior year of high school, or grade 11 as they say where we

are from in Canada.

 

I would start at the beginning and keep going until I felt

I finally knew my father outside the context of family man. I

wanted to know him fully. I wanted to get to know my dad, not

just as a father, but as a man and, most importantly, as an athlete

and the protagonist of a hero’s tale. That would be my night’s

quest. I had about four hours until the kids woke up to get to

know my father all over again.

 

It has been said by one of my dad’s coaches that the story

of Harry Geris is no less magnificent than the legend of Rudy

Ruettiger. My father was just, regrettably, unheard of; his own

tale was yet to be recognized for the inspiration it truly was.

Watching his coach speak, I could see how earnest he was as he

lamented the absence of my dad’s chronicles through wrestling

in the mainstream of both American and Canadian sports

folklore. The thought was nice and made me proud of my dad,

but it only grazed the surface of my consciousness at the time.

After the dream, however, that thought consumed me. Was my

dad’s life really a story of inspiration—a paramount narrative that

belonged alongside so many others that were told and retold,

used to exemplify what determination and heart were capable

of? Was my dad’s story, as his old junior college wrestling coach

had suggested, one that was too unique and rousing to go untold?

With my stack of vinyl covered hardback albums and a silent

summer night, I would find out.

 

Now available on Amazon!

 

 

 


 

 



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