A drought had baked the slope rock hard beneath the deceptively green carpet covering the hill.
Ideally, Gareth would have spent the afternoon limbering up like all the other cheese chasers did—by downing pints in the pub.
But he had to work that afternoon, so he went straight from his job to the hilltop.
A local TV reporter was interviewing runners at the starting line.
One of Gareth's friends, Craig Carter, had finished fourth the previous year. "I think I'm gonna win it this year," he told the camera, brimming with confidence.
Gareth, on the other hand, looked awkward, his wide-set eyes ducking and diving as the reporter asked him why he was taking part.
"Summink to do," he shrugged, flashing his braces. "It's a good laugh, runnin' down there."
"How are you going to avoid hurting yourself?"
"I dunno—I'm not."
Another grin: the recklessness of youth.
Whereas old pros leaned back as they ran, Gareth bolted headlong down the incline, leading the pack at the start. Hey! I'm still standin' up! he thought. I'll be alright here—I'm miles ahead!
But suddenly the hill flattened out, and he slipped, pitching him into a somersault that banged his head.
Hurtling downhill, he did half a dozen side rolls, his right foot hitting the slope with every turn until his legs flopped beneath him like a messy pretzel.
After a final back flip, he landed at the bottom, only yards from the finish line.
Determined to win, he got on all fours and started crawling, but his right leg gave way.
My shoe's come off—I'll just keep goin'.
He tried to get up again—so close!—but then he collapsed. He didn't feel any pain; it was just as if his leg wasn't there.
"Then I could tell it was a bit more—a bit more than that," he laughs. "So I stayed there and thought I'd better not try to crawl any further."
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