Not every memory fades as time races on. “I can recall every step of that race,” Chris Lewis said of flirting with history.
“I recall Shelton, when I ran the 4:04, and every step of the state mile and two mile.”
Was it really 20 years ago when the Mead senior headed to the state track meet with a real shot to break 4 minutes for 1,600 meters?
Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas, washing out any chance Lewis had of becoming the first Washington prep to run a sub-4. He won easily in 4 minutes, 8.31 seconds, and won the 3,200 as well, but didn’t come close to his goal.
“I’ve spoken to the Mead teams, and Mt. Spokane, about this subject,” Lewis said recently. “There are certainly no regrets; those things happen in athletics. Deal with what you have to deal with. If you have a perfect day, great, if it’s not perfect, that’s the way it goes.
“The crux is, do your best when you toe the line. That’s all you can do.”
Lewis’ best was certainly better than most. Often compared to Spokane legends of two decades earlier, Gerry Lindgren and Rick Riley, Lewis won the triple crown of distance as a senior – cross country, 1,600 and 3,200 – holding the fastest time in the nation in both track events. He also won cross country and the 1,600 as a junior.
“My name is still out there for some reason,” Lewis, a nurse practitioner at Sacred Heart Medical Center, said. “It’s nice that people still remember that I did a good job in high school and kids now days are comparing to my times just like I compared to Gerry Lindgren. That’s a flattering thing. Down the road, names tend to fade.”
Lewis started an amazing run for Spokane distance running in general, Mead in particular. Panthers runners won seven state 1,600 titles in eight years, which stretched out to a string of 10 straight titles won by Greater Spokane League runners, 13 in 14 years. In the 3,200, Spokane runners finished first in 14 of 16 state meets.
In the two decades starting with Lewis’ double, GSL girls also won 16 titles, 10 at 1,600 meters.
However, Spokane has not had a boys champion at 1,600 since 2005 or the 3,200 since 2004 heading into the state meet in Tacoma starting Thursday, when the 3,200 will be contested.
“There are ebbs and flows in everything,” Lewis said when asked about the drought.
“That’s a difficult question because there are so many competing things now days. Back then there was not as much club soccer, club basketball. Your distribution of kids is going into more and different sports, for one.
“And two, in my opinion, we didn’t have (video, internet); kids are more distracted. Athletics are farther down the totem pole for importance, which is too bad.”
Lewis believes there are great life lessons through sports.
“As part of being on a team, you not only learn about a sport and competition, you learn a lot about self and life skills,” he said. “Now we’re seeing a lack of tenacity, working through a problem, dealing with adversity.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that distance running in Spokane has faded.
Lewis pointed out that the Mead boys won the last two state cross country titles, running the GSL string to 21 straight big-school team titles, and the North Central boys won the last three 3A titles with a national championship tacked on last fall.
“You love to have that one stellar runner to build around, but in cross country you’re only as good as your fifth runner,” he said. “Team building is more important. When you do have that one guy it motivates the others.”
Unfortunately for Lewis – actually, it’s unfortunate for his fans – his college career, two years at Wisconsin, two at Washington State – never reached such heights.
“At Wisconsin the coach and I didn’t see eye to eye on things,” Lewis said. “His deal was that I was at college to run, that was his job. In my view, I was at college to get an education, that was my job.”
Six-hour practices led Lewis to the conclusion that there was more to life so he came home.
“Washington State was the opposite,” he continued. “(Coach) John Chaplin figured you’re here to run, do it, he’ll see you in a week. It was more. I didn’t do as well with that.
“If I would have had a coach somewhere in the middle, where (former Mead coach Pat) Tyson fits the bill, I would have done a whole lot better. When you’re a highly motivated athlete and left to train for yourself, you end up over training or under training and you get injured, which happened to me.”
So there has to be some disappointment, right?
“I have no regrets,” Lewis said. “I went to college to get an education, and I think I received a great education from WSU, and I’ve taken that to the next level. Could I have been a better runner at Wisconsin? Probably. But would I be where I’m at now? Probably not.”
He returned to nursing school at Community Colleges of Spokane in 1998 and earned a Masters from Gonzaga in 2001.
Lewis is 38 and running is still an important part of his life. He never ran competitively after college, instead settling in Spokane with his wife Laurie Milward (North Central Class of ’89). He has avoided Bloomsday since eighth grade because he vowed not to run unless he could meet a personal standard, but he runs when he can.
“It has been such a big part of my life from such an early age I find it’s therapeutic,” he said. “It’s nice to go out for a 30-, 40-minute run to get rid of the stresses of the day. It helps my mental status, lowers my blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s a life-long (sport). I wish I could do every day.”
And yes, he does miss the competition.
“Competition is one of those things I have found that gets thoroughly engrained with you,” he said. “In high school, it’s what you focus on, but you transfer that to your overall life after high school and college. It has helped me accomplish what I have in my life because I know how to set goals and work hard toward them. It’s nice to prepare and be physically active and compare your prowess with others, I just transfer that to a different arena.”
That includes raising three children, Mackenzie, 12; Makayla, 10; and Jacob, 7, and coaching distance running for the Mercury Track Club.
“My focus is to instill a love of running, a love of competition and to understand running and competition,” he said. “I push them hard but we have a lot of fun. At this age it’s more about building confidence. It sets them up … to have success and maybe get to college.”
Or at least join the train of success that Lewis helped engineer.
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