In the 36 years I've written this column, I've had the privilege of interviewing people as varied as a woman astronaut, Chuck Colson after Watergate, Billy Graham and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Recently when I spoke at a writers guild, one member asked, "What was your most unique interview?" I thought immediately of the world-renowned long-distance runner Stan Cottrell.
Since I knew little about him, I attended a seminar he led in Chattanooga. It was like walking into a highly charged magnetic field. Stan has more energy and enthusiasm in his little finger than most of us have in our entire bodies. But it was more than energy and enthusiasm. It was pathos as well. In a forthright but lighthearted manner, Stan told us of his life's struggles.
He was born in the backwoods of Kentucky -- at Gobbler's Knob on Dry Creek -- to well-intentioned but uneducated parents. His father was a big man physically and expected his sons to be also. He wanted them to be hunters as he was or to play basketball for the University of Kentucky and make lots of money. When Stan turned out to be skinny and short of stature, his dad thought there was something wrong with him. Not only did his dad call him puny and a runt, he also made Stan take a worm pill like he gave his prize-winning dogs. Once a month, he made Stan eat lard to "grease his joints."
We recognize this as child abuse, but Stan came through without any hint of bitterness. He brought tears to my eyes when he told of running the Great Wall of China and realizing that, though his dad had been dead for five years, he was still trying to win his father's approval.
It was his mother who kept him from bitterness. She told Stan that God loved him and made him "specialer." When Stan speaks to young people, he always tells them they are "specialer." He won a scholarship to Western Kentucky University when it began its track program. And now there is an annual "Stan Cottrell Day."
Contact Nell Mohney at firstname.lastname@example.org.