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Best of Aaron Todd
John L. Parker's cult classic Once a Runner has captivated high school distance runners for decades. The fictional book follows the journey of Quenton Cassidy, one of the nation's top milers.
Filled with excellent characters and memorable passages, my teammates passed the book around so many times that the cover was missing and the binding, which had been destroyed, was replaced with masking tape.
One of my favorite passages from the book has always been a section about "playing track." Cassidy's college teammates blow off some steam on a Saturday night by watching Spider Gordon, the team's high jumper, leap over a makeshift bar into a landing area filled with pillows and cushions.
While the height he clears is more than a foot lower than he is capable of jumping, this performance isn't about athletic achievement. It's a celebration of what he does. Cassidy calls it "playing track," saying that it's one of the few times the members of the team remember the reasons they love what they work so hard to do.
Last night, I got to "play poker." My media credential gave me an entry into the World Series of Poker's Media/Celebrity Tournament with a chance to win $10,000 towards my charity: The Augsbury/North Country Scholarship Fund at St. Lawrence University.
I haven't had so much fun in a No Limit Texas Hold'em Tournament, including home games that I've won, in quite some time. The atmosphere was incredible, and for a low-roller like me, the opportunity to sit down and play at the World Series of Poker was one I'll never forget.
Oh yeah, and being seated next to Shannon Elizabeth for half an hour wasn't that bad either.
I got to play for about two hours, and I finished somewhere in the neighborhood of 65th out of approximately 300 entries. Only the top nine players got money towards their charities, and while I was disappointed that I missed my goal of helping North Country kids like me pay for their St. Lawrence education, I still walked away beaming.
The players at my tables were constantly joking with each other. I got to play against Elvis, who was singing every time he had a hand. I even had a woman nearly knock me out of my chair with an excited and violent embrace when, down to one $25 chip, she cracked my pocket Jacks with her pocket 10s. If I had lost that hand with money on the line, it probably would have stung. Instead, it was an occasion to laugh, hug her back, and root for her to continue the comeback.
With just three times the big blind in the sixth level, it became clear that I had to make a move. It seemed like fate when I looked down and found A-T offsuit in the hole, so I went all-in from middle position. Things looked good when the big blind called me with Q-9, but alas, my day was finished when he paired his Queen.
I've been watching the top professionals play in pressure packed situations and have jumped into a few low limit games myself in the past few weeks. Poker had become a 24-hour a day job, and frankly, it was starting to become a chore. But the relaxed atmosphere of the charity tournament reminded me why I love this game, and I can't wait to "play poker" again.