Caught in the Act
Methinks the fool’s a wit
By Maria Johnson
It’s a wonder
I didn’t cause a rubbernecking wreck when I first saw Terry Odom.
There I was, motoring through Guilford Courthouse National Military Park on a sunny Saturday afternoon, when I glimpsed something I’d never seen before: someone juggling while jogging.
I hit the brakes and did a double take.
Sure enough, there was a guy in a sweat-soaked T-shirt, huffing along while keeping three clubs aloft in the air ahead of him.
I turned around and found him in the parking lot, getting in his van to leave.
I said, “Hey! You were just juggling. And jogging. At the same time!”
This was not news to Terry Odom. He smiled and said yes, he’d been “joggling.”
“Can you do it again?” I asked. “So I can take your picture?”
And so he did. He joggled past me several times until I got a decent pic.
We chatted for a few minutes. Terry said he was training for a 5-K race in March in Wrightsville Beach, where he hopes to set a time record for jogglers who are 60 and older. Later, I sat down in a restaurant with him and his wife, Susan, and they explained how Terry, an ophthalmologist, became Doc Joggle.
Basically, it started when 64-year-old Terry, who lives here and practices medicine in Danville, was about 32. He’d been jogging to stay in shape, but running was incredibly boring to him.
“I thought I’d take up juggling for the fun of it,” he says.
I wondered if Terry had grown up in the circus.
Nope. He traced his interest back to med school at Wake Forest University, where a bunch of other future docs juggled for stress relief.
As I always say, who needs fiction?
At that time, Terry was not in the juggler vein, but the idea appealed to him later.
He bought a kit called “Juggling for the Complete Klutz,” which included a how-to book and three balls. Just to be clear, Terry, who by then was performing microsurgery on people’s eyes, did not consider himself a klutz.
He bought the kit because he thought it would make juggling simpler. It did, and Terry caught on. He joined the International Jugglers’ Association and became a devoted reader of Juggle magazine.
He started juggling random items around the house. Apples. Basketballs. Toilet plungers. Eggs. Yes, eggs.
“He limited the eggs to outside, which was very thoughtful,” says Susan.
Is it just me, or can you see a halo over Susan’s head?
Anyway, Terry was eaten up with juggling.
He performed at all three of his daughters’ birthday parties, at office parties, at fundraisers.
Then he read about a guy who set a world distance record for joggling.
Eureka! Terry Odom had found his passion. Joggling was the perfect hybrid of fun, fitness and skill.
“Joggling is for those of us who are pretty good jugglers, but not elite jugglers,” he says.
Terry challenged himself by joggling around the track at Danville High School. Then he entered races. He joggled through his first 5-kilometer race in Greensboro. He signed up for more races: 5-Ks; 10-Ks; half-marathons, even a full marathon.
He got better at joggling.
He also became a better athlete, he says. A native of tiny Robbinsville in Western North Carolina, he’d played football and basketball in high school. He was no star, but he was fairly coordinated.
Joggling sharpened his eye-hand coordination, he says.
“If I’d started juggling when I was 13 instead of 30, I’d be retired from the NFL by now,” he says, chuckling. “I guarantee it makes you a better athlete.”
Terry says that’s because joggling — which requires you to throw the clubs slightly ahead of your body with just enough spin so the skinny end of the club lands in your hand — pushes the body and the brain at the same time, multiplying neural connections. Researchers say an abundance of neural connections — especially those forged by learning something new — sharpens thinking and helps to fend off diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Here’s the other thing: Joggling has made Terry good medicine for everyone he meets.
It’s hard not to smile when you see him joggling, whether it’s in the park, on the road near his home, or at the Alex Spears YMCA in Greensboro, where he goes to joggle on the treadmill on foul-weather mornings.
People clap as they watch him. They shout “Way to go!” They whip out their cell phones to click-and-grin at his feat.
“Can you chew gum and do that?” some bystanders want to know.
Terry has taught one of his daughters — and two of his sons-in-law — to juggle. He and his daughter Kelly Walters delighted the guests at Kelly’s wedding reception. During the father-daughter dance, they started out swaying slowly to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” They broke into juggling act when the music quickened.
“It was totally her idea,” Terry says proudly.
I ask Terry if he ever fears looking silly while joggling.
He shakes his head.
“I don’t mind looking foolish,” he says. “I want to entertain people.”
Which brings us back to how I met Terry. It seems I’m not the only motorist who’s been captivated by his skill.
In 2011, Terry was joggling on a bike path in Sanibel Island, Florida, when he heard a crash on the road next to him. One car had rear-ended another. The driver of the car in back told Terry that he’d been watching him instead of the car ahead.
Terry, ever the good doctor, checked to make sure everyone was OK.
Then he skedaddled. With clubs churning.
“I didn’t hang around to hear what he told the police,” says Terry. OH
Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org