Randy York's N-Sider
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When Asafa Powell officially revised the 43-year-old world record for 100 yards in Ostrava, Czech Republic, last month, Charlie Greene was in rehab after a kidney transplant and unable to walk.
Three-and-half-months after receiving a new kidney, Greene, the third man to run under 10 seconds for 100 meters, is just now learning to stand up again at a Lincoln rehab facility, but Friday he was upbeat.
"I'm getting stronger. I'm getting better. I feel very, very good about learning how to walk again," Greene said, adding that his kidney is working well. "It's the body that's old, and my biggest problem now is the neck surgery I had last year before the transplant."
Physical rehabilitation is a painfully slow process for a man who was once the fastest human on the planet.
Two weekends ago, while reclined in a hospital bed, I handed Greene a story published in a London-based publication about the fall of his world record.
Two young female caretakers, unaware that one of their patients was a bit of a celebrity, were more eager to read the story and see the pictures than the one who was featured.
Greene, you must understand, prefers to look ahead, not behind, and the thing that he liked best about the article I had written for an international publication was it included the message he wanted to communicate most - a call to action to all of his friends in track and field around the world.
Greene: Make Sure You Give Back to Track
"Enjoy your good life while you have it and remember to give back to track and field," he said. "You hear so many good programs ask for coaches in soccer, baseball and football. Well, what we need to do as track and field people is get out there and give back to the programs that have given so much to us.
"When your running days are over, contact a track club and tell that club that you'd love to volunteer what you know and believe in, so you can help young kids reach their goals like you reached yours. I did a little bit of that for a Lincoln high school, and I enjoyed it. I got more back than I probably gave. Kids are like sponges these days. They want to learn, and they need someone to teach them.
"When I coach sprinters, I tell them I cannot make them fast. Their parents and their genetics make them fast," Greene said. "I can only teach them how to be quicker by employing biomechanics and proper technique. The secret is to teach them how to run in straight lines. I tell them not to run with the idea of winning the race, but to run correctly so they can be the very best they can be."
Charlie's message got delivered loud and clear, in America, across Europe and everywhere else. "Track coaches and fans have been commenting on Charlie's message from all over the world for two weeks now," said T.J. Pierce, director of operations for the Husker men's and women's track and field teams. "When are we going to tell people about this world record on our own website?"
Pierce did not know that Greene didn't want to be the story. He wanted the historical significance of the story to send a more important message first.
Well, Greene, 65 and a former Army captain, accomplished his mission. Only now does he feel comfortable sharing the trials and tribulations he encounters in his daily battle to walk again.
A Fatigued Body Can Influence a Sharp Mind
"I've been down and occasionally lose sight of how much I've truly been blessed," he said. "Every day in a hospital takes away your ability to use your muscles."
It also takes away an ability to sharpen your mind.
Greene has been dismissed three times from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and another three times from rehab facilities. Six weeks ago, he was hospitalized for having water on his heart and his lungs.
"Once, when I was sent home, I couldn't breathe, so I was sent right back," Charlie said. "My oxygen level was very low."
He admits that his spirits were just as low as his oxygen level.
"I got tired of everything I'd been through," Greene said. "When I got way behind in the recovery that I thought I was going to have, I had to kick start myself mentally to get back where I needed to be. I had to test my mettle, count my blessings, set new goals. Rehab is going really well again."
Greene wanted to be able to help with this summer's Special Olympics in Lincoln. Now he understands he needs some special help himself. For once, he's not putting unrealistic demands on himself, so his body has time to adapt to a fully functioning kidney.
Three-times-a-week dialysis may be in his rear-view mirror, but he's still staring a grueling July and August straight in the eye. To adjust, he's had to mimic Bo Pelini's approach to football. "Bo says focus on the process and get better every day," Greene said. "That's what I'm trying to do in rehab. It's not easy."
Nebraska's Move to Big Ten Excites Greene
Fortunately, through some long days that have turned into weeks and months, Greene hasn't lost his sense of what's going on outside his room in rehab. "I've kept up with the new world Nebraska will move into a year from now," Greene said. "I thought Texas was playing a very dangerous game, and I'm glad we called their hand. I'm a traditionalist, and we're now in the most traditional conference in the history of intercollegiate athletics - a conference that does things right and always shows everyone the utmost respect."
Not surprisingly, Greene chooses to respect Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who now holds a title he once held.
"Each generation has its world's fastest human," Greene said. "Today he (Bolt) is the fastest human. The world's fastest human is a title. You do not keep it. Once you go to the Olympics and win a medal, you then become a part of history."
Greene's gold and bronze medals in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City made him a part of history. Losing a world record he held for 43 years meant little, if anything, to Greene.
To him, it was simply the end of an era. Back in his day, 100 yards was one of the most famous distances in athletic history, and Greene's 9.21 was the quickest officially measured automatic time for that historic event, which was more commonly run than the 100 meters in Britain and the United States.
Although 100 meters has always been the distance used in the modern Olympics, Britain's AAU Championships included the imperial distance until 1968, while the Americans held out until the 1970s. On May 27, 2010, organizers of a meet in the Czech Republic decided to set up equipment to record 100-yard splits, and for the first time in 43 years, someone was clocked electronically as quicker than Greene.
Motives: Walking, Helping Kids, Watching Football
Powell's 9.07 en route to his 9.83 win replaced Greene in the world record book and heralded the end of an archaic imperial age.
Greene could not have cared less. He's more concerned about learning to walk again and being able to help kids again.
One of the world's greatest all-time sprinters has one more important reason to get better.
Football season is just around the corner.
"I can't wait to see what Bo has up his sleeve this year,' Greene said.
Respond to Randy
Voices from Husker Nation
It was so inspiring to read about Charlie Greene. I first knew about Charlie when I was a freshman at Nebraska in 1968 and saw Charlie driving around campus in a green Corvette. Charlie was a cool customer with his trademark sunglasses at NU track meets. Later on, it was my good fortune to meet both Charlie Greene and Mel Pender at my home in Colorado Springs. My next door neighbor, Joe Gentry, was involved with the U.S. Army track team. My door bell rang one evening and who is standing on my doorstep with Joe? Charlie Greene. Charlie and Joe came in, and we sat in my kitchen for a few minutes reminiscing about good ol' NU. Another time, Joe brought Mel Pender over to say hello. I had two world record sprinters in my kitchen! Charlie, Mel and Joe are three of the nicest men you could hope to meet. I wish Charlie all the best. Greg Wiest, Colorado Springs, Colorado
That was a very good article about Charlie Greene. I remember watching him practice when I was at Nebraska. He was like a cheetah when he ran ... so pretty and even graceful to watch. He's a great football fan, too, and seemed to always make it to our practices. Can't imagine anyone who could have caught him on a football field. Here's wishing a Husker legend the best on his road to recovery. Jerry Murtaugh, Omaha, Nebraska
Thanks for your article on my college roommate, Charlie Greene. Charlie and I lived in the same dorm and in the fall of our freshman year, we had a dorm flag football team. With Charlie, we were a very good team. We ended up losing in the intramural finals to a frat team. When I saw Charlie in rehab, we talked about our days as college freshmen. I reminded him of how much fun we had playing football and how fast he was. He reminded me that we really did not know HOW fast he was when we asked him to play with us. How right he was! Here was this world-class runner having fun with us football want-to-bees. And he has remained a good friend for all these years, even though we have not seen each other often, except when he came back and worked for a while for the University. I still remember seeing him at an indoor track meet at the Devaney when he was with one of his daughters. After getting introduced, I asked her if she knew her dad had to wash Bob Brown's car every Saturday morning behind Selleck Quad. She looked somewhat shocked that her famous dad did something like that. Charlie just shrugged it off and said as a freshman, that what was expected of him, and he knew his place alongside the senior All-American. That is what I have always admired about Charlie. He was cocky on the track - always wearing his sunglasses and talking to his competition so he could psych them out. But in the dorm and with his friends, he had a kind and gentle heart. He never forgot who his friends were, and he always had time for us. Paul Carlson, Lincoln, Nebraska
I enjoyed reading a great story about someone who is dealing with things with a great positive attitude and really liked the part about his giving back to the sport. What a great message where the younger track athletes can learn from one of the best. Dave Torkelson, Council Bluffs, Iowa