Every time I come home, I dance with the ghosts that come to visit.
They entertain me. They hurt me. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They make me remember whether I want to or not.
But they always come.
As I walked out onto the fifth fairway of the golf course I was playing on a weekend trip “home”, I could hear and feel the ghost of a younger me racing past.
This fairway, this place–the Riverside Golf Course in Portland, Maine–had become a part of me as much as I literally had become a part of it 36 years before.
And here I was again, looking at a vastly different place that still remained so familiar and special.
In the fall of 1982, it was on this acreage where I was honored to achieve one of the highest highs in my life.
It was on these same grounds, on the very same day, in fact, where I had felt the lowest of lows.
And, on a sun-splashed and warm Friday morning, Riverside taunted me once again through a vastly different game.
I’m calling this weekend the “Last Chance To Play Golf in Maine Tour”—Riverside on Friday, Bangor Muni on Sunday.
Quite likely, I’ll never return to these courses again.
I grew up playing at Bangor Muni. I shot my best ever score of 93 on that course. (I once shot an 89 on a course that had more Par 3s than Par 4s, so I don’t count that).
I had also played a round at Riverside when I was in my late teens/early 20s; far too long ago to remember any shots, any putts, any score.
Having taken up the game once again this summer, after leaving it behind 20 years earlier, I figured two more rounds on these courses in my native Maine would close the books on them.
So, I had come to Riverside to play golf.
But I also came to the dance with the ghosts of yesteryear.
To be exact: 1982.
I was only 16 then. Thin. Athletic. Handsome. Or so a few girls thought.
And, I was a runner, if you can believe it.
These days, the only place I run is to the bathroom when I wake up at three in the morning with my bladder screaming, “It’s time!!!”
A lot has changed since 1982.
Back then, I had my whole life in front of me and I raced toward it with reckless abandon.
Today, with my body breaking down with each passing year, I stood on the fairway on Riverside’s fifth hole and remembered.
In the fall of 1982, Riverside hosted the Maine State High School Cross Country championship meet.
My high school team—John Bapst Memorial High School—qualified for the meet and I was one of seven runners representing the Crusaders that day.
By the time I reached the No. 5 fairway, I realized I was in trouble.
It wasn’t my day and putting each foot in front of the other was a chore. My lungs begged for air that my body refused to take in.
It’s the closest I ever came to stopping in any sport I’ve ever played. I was ready to give up. I was ready to quit.
I was usually finished anywhere from the No. 3 to No. 5 runner for my cross country team. I couldn’t hang with the best, but I had the heart to out-kick anybody who was average.
Except for that one race at Riverside.
I can still picture myself struggling. White tank top, purple Dolphin running shorts, Nike waffle trainers pushing me toward the end I begged to come.
I was my team’s No. 7 runner that day. The last Crusader. I brought up the rear and when the race was over, I walked off by myself and vomited into the nearby woods.
I told you I had become part of the course and I meant it literally. My DNA is forever embedded in the soil of Riverside.
The twist of fate is that on my worst day as a cross country runner, my team won the state championship.
We stood on the Riverside grounds and took a photo that captured that winning moment forever.
Our team. My team. State champs. Nobody could ever take that away from us.
Riverside giveth. And Riverside taketh away.
As I played my round on Friday, I shined brightly on the front nine, firing a 45. It was one of the best nine holes I’ve ever played in my life.
Just as I had 36 years earlier, though, I struggled to the finishing, firing a 56 on the back for a 101.
I recognized bits and pieces of the course from all those years before, digging them out from the back corners of my mind like an archeologist with a nine iron:
• That No. 5 fairway where I knew I was in trouble.
• The 10th fairway where we captured that magical Kodachrome moment with our championship trophy.
• The woods just off the 18th fairway where I puked up that morning’s breakfast.
Here is one aside to my Riverside reflection, which came years later.
I was having a discussion with Len Miragliuolo, my former cross country coach, sharing war stories about our history together, and he asked me if I knew the moment he was most proud of when it came to me and my career.
I assumed it was my sophomore year, when I finished 27th in the state championship meet, right on the heels of our No. 2 runner.
Nope, he said.
“I knew you were struggling that day and I know you wanted to quit,” he told me. “But you didn’t. You kept going and you finished.”
His answer surprised me, but he also gave me a chance to look differently about that day and that race.
So as the ghost of my former self raced up that No. 5 fairway, with the pained look on his face and that doubt of finishing dancing in his head, I knew he’d be OK.
Thirty-six years later, I’m still putting one foot in front of the other and even though there are days I still want to quit, I know in my heart I’m going to finish.
So thanks for that Riverside.
I’ll never forget you. Or, that 45 I shot on the front nine.