As soon as the stampede passed, I searched out John Myers on the sidewalk. Our eyes locked like two angry cowboys at a high noon duel. I shot him my best Clint Eastwood squint, and he countered with his own angry glare.
Ever since I shrugged off the recorder and notepad for my editor desk job, Myers and I knew this day was coming. It went unsaid each time we passed each other at local events—at least it went unsaid by us. Both of us have been dogged by the question almost daily.
“Are you guys going to continue to compete in the Apple Harvest Media Challenge?” they’d ask.
“One more time,” we’d answer.
For more than a decade, it has become one of the fiercest rivalries in local sports. Forget Thanksgiving Day football. Forget about any Southington-Amity showdown in softball. Even the banter between local Yankees and Red Sox fans pales by comparison.
The Apple Harvest Road Race is the biggest sporting event in town. It draws more spectators than the Cheshire-Southington football game. It draws more participants and fans than any state championship contest, and at the heart of it all is the Media Challenge.
The times aren’t broadcast on the internet or in the papers, but the winner has bragging rights throughout the year. It’s only open by invitation to sports writers, photographers, and race directors.
John Atashian, the official photographer for the festival, declines the invitation each year, choosing to protect his camera equipment by staying as far from the town green as possible. Many regional newspapers choose not to cover the event because they’re afraid of the fight. It’s that fierce.
First, we have to survive the stampede of runners at the starting line (this year there were two). Then, we have to stumble through the crowds, overloaded with backpacks and camera equipment, in a mad dash toward the finish line.
The clock keeps ticking. We can feel the frontrunners at our backs as we strain to get to the finish line to cover it. It’s not a marathon. It’s a sprint, and it usually comes down to Myers and me.
He is infamous for his cheating. I have been pummeled by objects, elbowed, tripped, and misdirected. Myers has used volunteers, shortcuts, and golf carts. He’s hired others as obstacles and has used his position as the YMCA director to position apologetic race volunteers directly in my path.
Still, for more than a decade, I’ve managed to win more than I’ve lost. But we both knew that all came down to this—our final showdown.
I gathered my stuff and began to sprint. Myers fell in step beside me, and we began to use our equipment as weapons. He hit me with his megaphone. I managed to get one in with my heaviest zoom lens. At one point we were both crawling over each other on all fours as we clamored for the finish line.
Then, I looked up.
Standing under the clock with a broad smile was Observer sports writer Brian Jennings, and as Myers and I loosened our grips, he smiled even wider.
“I win,” was all he said.
At first, I was disappointed. Both of us had forgotten that—this year—we weren’t alone in the challenge, but then it began to sink in. I think I saw a tear rolling down that dastardly Myers’ cheek. Jennings kept the Observer streak alive.
Good luck next year, Myers. He’s in better shape than I am.
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