August 05, 2022 3 min read 1 Comment
Dr. Reggie Mason. Photo By Pam Wendell
By Ray Glier
LEXINGTON, Ky.___Reggie Mason, a doctor, refuses to make this thing he does on a track and in shorts merely a transaction of winning and losing. He attaches significance to a 400-meter dash that is more complex than the time flashing on the big scoreboard. You listen to this man and you marvel at the human connection he assigns to a single lap around a track.
Mason, who is a pulmonologist in Atlanta, took a silver medal in the Men’s 65-69 400 meters at the USA Track & Field Masters National Championships here Friday. The 67-year old ran a 1:06.74, finishing second to John Brooks and his 1:05.54.
Mason was delighted to run .26 less than his age. And he was ok with yet another silver medal at the nationals. He has never won a gold at the national meet, but has a load of the less precious medal of silver and bronze, which is satisfying enough, for now.
But it’s what he said after the race that was more alluring than gold, more illuminating than silver.
“If I had had my training partner the last few months, I probably would have won this race,” Mason said. “I would have been pushed and learned more and won.”
His training partner is fellow Atlantan David Wilkes, who injured his calf in the USATF Indoors in New York in March and subsequently had a blood clot in the calf, which further restricted his training.
“You see,” said Mason, “we need each other, David and I.”
You lean in closer to Mason because you have the feeling something deeper is coming. And it does.
“The interesting thing about disease, the diabetes, the cancer, the heart disease is the whole story of the illness itself and how it affects your family members and how it affects other people in your in your orbit.
“It just underscores the fact that we have to take care of each other as a society, as athletes, as people in health care, as patients. And, the last few years, we have failed to take care of each other. We have really failed.”
It is not politics necessarily that Mason was talking about, but just the steady drumbeat of angst we heap on one another. Maybe we should all get a training partner, like Wilkes is for Mason, and bind ourselves together in a different race, a race to civility.
Mason also talked about his slow start in the 400 Friday. He was not aggressive and allowed Brooks to build too big a lead.
“I was too fresh at the end,” the doc said. “I was out too slow. I have some learning to do.”
He smiled. Here comes another prescription from the doc that has nothing to do with winning and losing.
“To be in medicine you really have to be a lifelong learner,” Reggie said. “You have to have that humility. If you're not in a learning mode, you lose that humility. So you have to sort of stop and you have to learn from people who are lesser than you.”
By “lesser”, Mason meant those people in medicine who are not as far along in their careers, people who wouldn’t normally command attention from veteran physicians.
“You can listen and learn from anybody,” he said.
While I was talking to Mason I got the feeling the man has immense gratitude. He told me he was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year ago, but he has the disease on the run these days because he was aggressive in his treatment. His brother, Elliott, also got prostate cancer at 66. He survived until he was 74 before it killed him. Reggie's and Elliott’s father also died of prostate cancer.
So, yes, Mason is grateful. You bet.
Mason said his brother was a gifted athlete and ran a 45.60 in the 400. Reggie himself ran track for several seasons at Stanford. He had some gifts, too.
In 1994, when Mason was 41 he was rated the No. 1 Masters sprinter in Georgia. When he heard there was such a thing as the USATF National Masters he decided, “I’m going to show up and blow some people away.”
“I barely made the final,” he said with a chuckle.
That Reggie, the bombastic one, is nowhere to be found these days.
“He's such an open, friendly and humble person,” Wilkes said. “When we travel together, he always makes anyone we meet feel good about themselves, and he will engage anyone in genuine conversation.”
That's what my conversation with Mason felt like in the moments after the 400. Genuine. He says what he means and means what he says. The race is just part of the story and don't go it alone.
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