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Lessons of Jeff Cascone

Jeff Cascone in 1989: A running star
Jeff Cascone in 1989: A running star

For some reason this evening I found myself thinking of Jeff Cascone.

Back in, oh, 1988, ’89 and ’90, Jeff was the star distance runner at Mahopac High School. We were both members of the track and cross country teams, and Jeff was absolutely dominant. During our senior season, he never lost a dual meet against another team. It was one victory after another victory. Not only that, Jeff made it look simple. He ran breezily, almost casually. I’d never seen anything like it, and I graduated in 1990 with the belief that—truly—Jeff Cascone was unbeatable.

Then I went to college.

I attended the University of Delaware and walked on to the cross country and indoor track teams as a freshman. This was a legitimate Division I program, overloaded with high school state champions and runner-ups of all sorts. My peers were sleek, confident, gifted, resilient—and to train with them day after day was both a joy and a cruel reminder that I was Gerald Wilkins to their Michael Jordans.

Throughout my one year of running at Delaware, I often thought back to Jeff, who quit the sport after high school. I had been so sure of his world domination … so positive that he was an unblemished runner. Then, without preparation, I was standing alongside 25 young men who would have probably sliced him to pieces. I mean, truly, it wouldn’t have been particularly close. Jeff was a breathtaking upstate New York harrier. But high school isn’t college.

Anyhow, it was my first lesson in recognizing that sometimes you’re certain you know.

When you don’t.