OKLAHOMA CITY — Ninety-two-point-seven-two seconds and not a dry eye in the place.
Well, something like that.
Norman High’s Patrick Ahearn ran Friday afternoon. Not for the first time but for the first time in front of the masses and for the first time in uniform and for the first time, as he so often says, “as a Tiger.”
He took off slowly and didn’t get a whole lot faster, but that was all right. Indeed, it was better than all right because it gave everybody time. And, Friday, everybody meant everybody.
Hundreds of athletes and tens of coaches and managers and support personnel milling around the infield moved over to crowd the home stretch several bodies deep; like punters rooting home their horse, which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad analogy, because if you have to bet on somebody you can’t go wrong with Ahearn.
Eight months previous to the day he lost most of the lower half of his left leg when the personal watercraft he was directing struck a boat before he struck the boat’s propeller.
Five months ago, he began to walk again on a prosthetic. Two weeks ago, he received a prosthetic made for running. Friday, he competed.
“Just finally being back with my team and not watching everything from the sidelines,” he said was the best thing about the day.
That, and “just being a Tiger again.”
His last 150 yards or so had to be way up there, too.
Ahearn was about halfway through his 400 meter heat when the PA announcer alerted everybody he was running in lane seven, quickly summarized the Tiger senior’s story and saluted him for being a role model. And by the time everybody understood what was going on a stunningly awesome site prevailed.
Scores of athletes, in all different uniforms, and everybody else, and all at once, lined the home stretch like a parade. Noise built slowly to a roar. Some cried.
“I didn’t know they were going to do that,” Ahearn said of the PA announcement. “Whenever I came around that corner I saw everyone right there on the track and everybody in the stands was on their feet. That was pretty cool.”
If Ahearn had never seen anything like that before, he wasn’t the only one; and of all the things sports and life are about, seeing something you’ve never seen before must be high on the list.
Ahearn, ever cool, even had a joke ready when asked if anything was more than he expected.
“My time was certainly more than I expected,” he said.
The kid’s pretty amazing.
Perhaps all of us are more resilient than we ever hope to realize. Still, we can’t possibly be as well prepared to handle it as Ahearn.
“I’m sure in his private moments he may wonder why me or whatever, but he never seems to have a bad day,” said Barry Bogle, his stepfather. “With Patrick, what you see is what you get.”
His mother, Lisa Bogle, remembers a day when Ahearn, maybe trying to help her deal with his condition, said, “Look, this is me.”
“I think he’s taught us a lot of life lessons,” she said. “I think he teaches us something every day.”
The day before, asked to consider his plight, Ahearn was matter-of-fact and undeniably positive.
“It’s not really one of those things that you think about before it happens, so you don’t really know how you’ll handle it,” he said. “I’ve decided I don’t want it to get the best of me, I’m going to keep moving forward. I know it could have been a lot worse.”
That was clear, too, Friday, because in the grandness of his presence, one could also consider his absence. Just not for very long, and certainly not for a moment after he turned the corner for home.
Everybody rushed the stage. Everybody was on their feet. Once he finished, he remained the center of attention for a very long time.
He’ll get faster.
“I’m going to train harder and harder,” Ahearn said.
But there may not be a bigger day than Friday. If not for Ahearn, for everybody else.
Follow me @clayhorning