"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Diamond in the Rough"

Ryan Jobes was the kind of kid that we wanted for the Richmond track program. Oddly enough, the statement I remember first about him wasn't even accurate. A sports writer in West Virginia fabricated a quote from my coach Steve Taylor when writing a story about Jobes' committment to Richmond. "He's a diamond in the rough," Taylor said. "Now he's my diamond in the rough." I won't belabor the ethical considerations of fabrication, just refer you to Shattered Glass, but I will laugh about how creepy that sounded.
All I heard about from Lauder on the recruiting front our senior year was that we had to get Jobes. The kid was supposedly an amazing ping pong player, but also happened to run pretty fast, too, winning the 400, 800, 1600 and 4x4 relays at the West Virginia state meet, while leading Williamstown High School to back-to-back state track team titles. When he came for his official visit, I served as his host. That same weekend, a runner from Mt. Lebanon also came for a visit, and the weekend showed what it takes to succeed at the collegiate level and what you could get away with in high school. While Ryan conducted himself professionally- quite impressive for 17-year-old, my old teammate used the visit as a paid trip to get drunk with his high school buddy. Jobes would have impressed me enough on his own, but when contrasted with Dickerson's display, I disowned my high school and if asked to choose one of the two to join us at Richmond, I would have been totally in favor of Jobes.
I remember watching Airplane! with him when he got settled in my apartment. I was pretty busy that semester, so I stayed in a lot to work while he met the people with whom he would be running the next year, but he got along famously with the team. Danielle Binns had the hots for him, as I'm sure others did, too. Meanwhile, Dickerson showed up drunk to the recruiting dinner Saturday night.
Any questions about whether a dominant runner in the small school division in West Virginia would compete on the Division I level went to rest soon after he arrived. Rough or not, he was a diamond. Jobes came and he conquered the track and the hearts of the people who met him. On his way home for winter break in 2005, he died in a car accident on I-64. He was growing the way yuong men typically do, through trial and error, learning from mistakes and reconciling emotion with calculated intensity.
Every year, Ryan's family puts together a race to remember Ryan and raise money for a scholarship fund. His mom and stepfather Brenda Jobes and Mark Parker, and his sister Kristen take whatever Richmond track runners are able to get there into their home for the night (or weekend). We scatter along the course, taking it seriously, like Molz and Benford tend to, or enjoying a run, as I tend to (because I'm slow). I think Lauder races it because he and Jobes would be so competitive at everything. The shirts from the race I have collected end up as my cool-down, post-road race shirt.
I'm in an awkward position, in that I did not run with Ryan, having graduated before he arrived, and having only been a sporadic presence at practice, whereas Lauder was an assistant coach and study hall proctor his freshman year. I feel as though my presence is more of an imposition, because I don't offer the same insight or memories as the guys who bonded and grew with him. I'm out of place as the old guy who comes for some reason. I hope that whatever evaluation of their son, brother, stepson and friend I can offer, as the kind of man I was thrilled to see choose Richmond, is of some solace. I know there's nothing I can do to assuage the grief they still feel over his loss, but if I can distract them for a second that the other guys aren't doing so, I guess I have served some purpose. I
got a lot out of meeting more of Ryan's friends this year and spending time with his father John and stepmother Kim. Even if we didn't talk about Ryan, I saw them in their element, or wearing mementos of him throughout the day, like a Richmond track sweatshirt. I didn't think I would make it to Williamstown this year. Being in DC, I no longer had access to my mom's car, and the distance was somewhat prohibitive. Luckily, Brenda and Mark were helpful in putting me in touch with Mike Gaubinger, who was driving there after work on Friday and had room for me to come along, and I was able to reschedule a doctor's appointment that had been late Friday afternoon.
It's almost a pilgrimage to pay respects to a young man who motivated everyone to raise play a little harder. This year's race coincided with the worst snow storm to hit Virginia in 20 years. Molz and Neil had to turn back after two hours of driving- Lauder didn't even get out of the parking lot after work.

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