Like everybody else, I tuned in to the Summer Olympics from Beijing. I didn’t stay glued to my easy chair to foster world peace and brotherhood. I just wanted to see our American guys and girls kick some international booty.

But at times, I kept thinking ... what’s the big deal? I’ve done better than that. Do you mean to tell me they hand out gold medals for something that easy?

Granted, nobody saw me set my individual world records, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t set them. Any soldier can tell you that lots of people deserve the Medal of Honor, but they didn’t get it because nobody else was around to witness their heroics.

That’s how it is with me. I’ve performed some amazing athletic deeds, but I was either by myself, or I forgot my yardstick, or both. Here are but a few examples:

--Balance beam. About 20 years ago, I found myself balancing atop a 2-inch-wide ceiling joist above my kitchen at 411 S. Buchanan St. I had a flashlight in one hand, and some tools and a roll of 12-gauge wire in the other. The flashlight bulb went out, leaving me completely in the dark. It was like being in a cave at night, but worse, because I was standing on the edge of a board. I knew that one bobble would send me crashing through 100-year-old knob-and-tube wiring, lath and plaster and onto the kitchen table, nine or 10 feet below. In a breathtaking performance worthy of the gold, I shuffled along the beam to the little trap door inside a bedroom closet. No circus tight-rope walker could have done it better. Compared to that, the balance beam is for sissies.

--High jump. Not long after the flashlight incident, I set the world mark in the high jump, and I didn’t even need a running start. I was minding my own business, hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the wooded mountains of Virginia, when I looked down and spotted a rattlesnake sunning itself ... right on the footpath. Within a quarter of a second, my adrenal gland secreted about 10 gallons of adrenaline, giving me super-human leaping powers. I soared over the basking snake, clearing it by at least 40 feet. That was with hiking boots, and a 35 pound backpack. I can’t imagine how awesome I would have been in track shoes and running shorts. Oddly enough, that same afternoon, while crossing a bridge, I nearly stepped on a different snake, apparently sound asleep.

--100 meter freestyle swimming. When I was in Boy Scouts, dear old Troop 34 in Westville used to go on camping trips to Raccoon Lake, near Rockville, Ind. Boys love to dive, dive and dive, so we’d always swim out to the diving island, a floating platform with a diving board, buoyed by sealed oil drums. We’d dive for hours, and get ravenously hungry. There is no doubt that swimming records were shattered when our scoutmaster, Joseph “Poochie” Chmielewski, blew the whistle and called us in for a glorious repast of charred hot dogs, Kelly’s potato chips, Dad’s Root Beer and mushy Three Musketeers bars.

--Weight lifting. Nobody could have beaten me in my weight division — at one time, 6-foot-1 and a skeletal 125 pounds. In the 1970s, I saved sandstone foundation blocks from an old building on Walnut Street, massive stone steps and pieces of curbing, a complete sandstone arch from a business block on W. Main St., the carved keystone from the 1874 Vermilion County Jail, an 800-pound printing press, and all the interlocking, cast-iron sections of a Wabash King pot-bellied stove that stood nearly six feet tall. I have the arms of a consumptive Irish peasant, but I’ve lifted anvils, blacksmith vises, thick oak doors and surplus benches from the county courthouse.

And I can still walk unassisted.

--Bicycle steeplechase. My brother and I would ride our bikes down Lafferty Hill, a steep, dangerous incline between Grape Creek and Belgium. It was a gravel road, and the bikes would go so fast, even when pumping the brakes, that the wheels would bounce and sway. All you could do was hang on and hope for the best. It was our own little death-defying version of the Tour de France. If I had ever wiped out, I’d still be picking rock out of my hands, knees and face. A bicycle helmet? What’s that?

--50 yard dash. When I was a kid, several big, red slag heaps — reminders of Westville’s coal-mining days — stood just north and east of Westville Junior High School. It was private property, and, we were told, it was owned by Mr. Kedas. We weren’t supposed to be there, but all the boys went there, anyway. We had to climb the heaps and take in that top-of-the-world view. The older guys always warned us that if Mr. Kedas caught you trespassing, he’d shoot you with shotgun shells filled with rock salt. That only added a thrilling sense of added adventure. As we were scaling our little Mount Everest one day, a truck pulled in and somebody yelled “Kedas!” We didn’t know Mr. Kedas, and we never saw a shotgun, but we rolled down that flinty slope and ran for our lives. The guy in the truck, whoever he was, must have wondered how we had managed to attain such world-class technique and conditioning by age 10.

Michael Phelps? Bruce Jenner? Jesse Owens? Usain Bolt?

Sure, they’ve got medals. But I’m the one with Olympic records that they can only dream of.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at

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