Three decades ago I lived on an Indian reservation in Arizona for six years, where I taught high school and coached runners. The most talented runner I ever coached was Edward Felix. He set state records in the mile and half mile my first year on the rez, and also ran in the 2-mile and mile relay.
Any track coach will understand that’s astounding. For the half mile – in my opinion, the most grueling track event – is followed by the 200-meter race, then the 2-mile, then the relay.
In other words, after setting state records in the mile and the half, Edward had about 12 minutes to get ready for the 2-mile, then the mile relay.
Edward’s half-mile record for Class AA schools in Arizona still stands, after 35 years.
In 1980, he helped Pima College win the national cross-country championship for two-year schools.
Edward was the best competitor I’ve ever seen. Tom Brady? Joe Montana? No, not for me. Edward Felix.
He caught pneumonia one year and was hospitalized for a few days. He came out of the hospital – cleared for competition – and we went to a track meet. I told him I would not let him run. But he demanded it. So I let him run the quarter mile – not his race. He won it, of course, in 50 seconds or so.
I will always remember the finish of that race. Edward was neck to neck with the other team’s quarter-miler. A few yards from the finish, some extraterrestrial wind blew Edward forward and he won the race. I can’t explain it in any other way. It was as though Edward had been picked up in God’s hand and puffed over the finish line. I’ve never seen anything like it.
He won a major track meet against the state’s best runners, from the biggest schools, in the same way. Will, determination and desire.
I know that in this age of lawsuits and high-paid sports, someone will accuse me of trying to profit from Edward’s talent by letting him run a race straight out of a hospital bed. I assure you that was not the case. I let him run for the same reason I would not deny a lion a piece of antelope. Because Edward demanded it, and he was born to run. And he would have eaten me alive if I denied him.
Back in those days, the only basketball hoop on the Tohono O’odham reservation was in the capital of the rez, Sells. When Edward was in junior high school, he ran from his village of South Komelic to Sells – 18 miles – and shot hoops all day, then ran home. Thirty-six miles. Plus the hoops.
Edward told me he learned to run when he was a little boy and he had a black stallion who used to jump the fence. So Edward ran him down.
Edward died last week. He was 52.
I taught and coached three other members of his family, and knew his mom, who was the best mom I’ve ever known, except my own.
OK, news columns like this are supposed to be about important issues: politics, Congress, the world and blah blah blah.
But there is nothing more important than this: A good man died. He lived his life the best he could. He came from a good family. His family survives. They’ve always worked for a living, and they’re still working. They miss Edward, and so do I.
It’s too bad that it takes death to bring us together. But that seems to be the way of the world.
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