It's can't try for something I don't really want anymore," Dave Pottetti said Wednesday night. That afternoon, Pottetti, probably the best distance runner ever to come to Harvard, had told coach Bill McCurdy that he would not be running any more cross country.
The joy began to go out of running for him last year when cross country became more of a "commitment" than a diversion. He found that he was running for the sake of relatives and parents.
Last spring he worked hard at his running with an eye on the steeplechase at the Penn Relays. Pottetti won the race, but the great feeling of satisfaction which he expected just wasn't there.
Late this summer Pottetti decided that he would not attend Harvard's cross country camp in Groton. he call McCurdy from the West, where Pottetti had spent most of he summer, and explained his absence. There was no mension of what would happen the rest of the fall.
Through all of this, McCurdy has not tried to put pressure on the former star, an All-American in cross country as a sophomore. "I don't want to pester him." McCurdy said Wednesday before Pottetti came to talk to him. "It's not in me to tell him he owes the team something."
Pottetti says he has found other interests and that now he is busier than when he was running competitively. He has become somewhat absorbed in. Hunduism and Buddhism, but mainly the change in his life has been a new ability to appreciate other persons, he said.
"Running was my whole life for a long time," he explained, Pottetti found it difficult to get close to others. In the last half year, however, he has made more of an effort and has found great enrichment. "My life is so much fuller now," he added. "I've met so many great people."
Pottetti found that being on a team imposed "artificial constraints" on his way of life, and as he and his friends point out, Pottetti hates the feeling that he is being forced to do anything.
"Pottetti doesn't do anything he does not want to do," one teammate said. "He runs cross country and the steeplechase because he likes to."
So far this fall, Pottetti's intentions have been a mystery. Most persons involved in Harvard track were predicting that he'd get himself back in shape quickly and run in the important cross country meets in November.
His decision became doubly important when Harvard's string of 34 straight victories was ended convincingly by Penn two weeks ago. It became clear then that the Crimson could use one of the best runners in the East. Penn runners had said that the news that Potetti was not competing gave them a big lift.
Pottetti could not reach a decision. Finally, for a 48-hour period early this week, he put his thoughts together and realized that he really did not want to return to the team.
"McCurdy was fantastic about it," Potetti said Wednesday. "We parted friends."
McCurdy's handling of Pottetti was superb when he was on the team. He recognized Pottetti's dislike of competitive team practices and allowed him to take care of his own conditioning by running on his own.
This perception makes McCurdy unique, and it's unlikely that Pottetti would have lasted as long as he did with any other coach. "[Penn's Jim] Tuppeny would probably have forced me to run with a shotgun," Pottetti joked.
In fact, when Pottetti was one of the nation's top high school runners. Tuppeny, the master recruiter, was placing weekly phone calls to the Pottetti home in Pound Ridge, N. Y. "He came to visit me at home and at school, too," Pottetti said.
He also received calls from Marty Liquori, Pottetti's rival in Eastern high school competition. Liquori was at the time planning to go to Penn as part of a great group of distance runners. When Pottetti and others failed to show an interest, Liquori was lured to Villanova, where he became the world's top miler.
Pottetti, meanwhile, had set the national schoolboy record in the steeplechase and looked forward to the 1972 Olympics. It was a reasonable goal. "I'd take a trip just to watch him run," said Howie Foye, a Harvard harrier who attended a high school further upstate. "He was a legend up North."
But now the glory doesn't mean to Pottetti what it used to. He's done some running this month after his usual summer layoff, but now he's doing yoga instead of working out by the Charles. He said Wednesday that he hadn't run in over a week.
Some Harvard trackmen, however, don't believe that he's not running regularly, and one asserted that he'd seen Pottetti out running at least a few times during this period that Pottetti claims he has been inactive.
And the feeling persists that he will decide that he'd like to run the big cross country meets. "He's not scared of being beaten," one said.
Such opinions are justified only by Pottetti's natural talent and his ability to return to shape quickly. "He has fantastic physical ability." McCurdy said. Whenever cross country persons talk of a runner's form, they always compare the runner to Pottetti as the ideal.
And Pottetti, who began to run in the seventh grade after his sister recommended him to the coach, says he has never felt stronger.
He denied that he has any desire for revenge on the Penn team that beat Harvard this fall. Pottetti does not think there would be much satisfaction in winning. "All it would mean is that I can run faster. So what?"
Maybe it's a sense of blind hope that allows observers to expect his return. Or a feeling that Pottetti simply can't break from running at this point. The short time necessary for him to regain conditioning feeds these hopes.
"If he trains for a month, he could beat [Penn's Julio] Piazza nine out of ten times," one close acquaintance suggested. "I have the fullest confidence that he can beat anyone in the Ivy League by the Heps."