It Just Doesn’t Matter

by Tom Swift

In these troubled times, everyone needs a hero, someone they can look up to, a person who knows what it’s like to face adversity, a figure who shows us that we, too, can prove all the doubters wrong.

I speak, yes, most certainly I do, of the great Rudy Gerner.

Rudy, of course, is the lad who delivered camp North Star a highly improbable victory in the 13th annual camp Olympiad, circa 1979, against their more heavily funded, sharply tailored, and better-looking rivals at camp Mohawk.

Thrust into the spotlight to compensate for an injured teammate, Rudy is selected almost by default — if not as part of the master plan of his mentor, Tripper Harrison — to represent Camp North Star in the Olympiad’s final event, the grueling four-mile “marathon” with nothing less than the gold medal at stake.

Fortunately for Rudy, the marathon’s path cuts right through the cluttered woods in which he trained each morning without knowing he was — a daily regimen that was, no doubt, all part of Tripper’s master plan to show the young Rudy that he was more than a kid no one wanted to spend time with. (Not even Gerner‘s own workaholic father sees value in him, apparently, as the elder Gerner doesn’t so much as come to Camp North Star for Parents Day.)

What must it be like to be a kid who hasn’t before played soccer? Who can’t catch a football? How would it feel to have no friends? When all you got in the world is a sensitive nature and bus fare home, what do you do? You pack your cardboard suitcase, that’s what you do.

Enter Tripper, who buys Rudy some fries and takes him under his wing (never mind that that wing reeks of cheap alcohol and under-laundered T-shirts). Tripper puts Rudy’s development ahead of his own self-interest, getting up each morning of the summer, before the camp’s usual rounds, using energy he’d no doubt rather expend chasing co-eds (especially one in particular), to run with Rudy, pushing him to go beyond his limits — first two miles, later (the next day) a staggering two and a half.

Yet Rudy has not run four before. And the marathon is about to begin. How will he make it? How can he, with his pencil-thin legs, stay with the older, more experienced punk from Mohawk? Svengali Tripper has the answer. Of course. He channels an inner (albeit animated) totem animal inside Rudy in a last-minute skull session that gives Gerner the confidence he needs to toe the starting line.

After the gun goes off, Rudy Gerner shows himself, and all of us, that deep down in places inside we may not yet know, there is something no one can take away: the heart of a winner.