07/04/2011 01:19 pm ET Updated Sep 03, 2011

A Fourth of July Miracle

I was a terrible athlete when I was a kid, and that's just about the worst thing that can happen to you in the suburbs, where athletic excellence is the currency that counts.

It wasn't entirely my fault. I was a December birthday, six months younger than most of the kids in the sixth grade, and at that age there's a hell of a lot of development in that six-month gap.

So I never took a shot in basketball that wasn't blocked, I always popped up or struck out in softball, and in footraces of any distance all I ever saw was everybody else's asses.

Looking back on it, those athletic humiliations are probably the reason I developed the seething anger that's vital to anybody thinking about becoming a writer.

Okay, so ends the knee-jerk self-psychoanalysis. Here comes the story.

Fourth of July, 1967. In Douglaston, Queens this was the day of the annual athletic competition at the local ballfield -- footraces of various distances, and a running broad jump into a sawdust pit.

For some masochistic reason I entered these events every Fourth of July, and got clobbered time and again by the neighborhood kids.

So there I stood on that sunny Fourth of July in '67, eleven and a half years old, waiting my turn for the running broad jump. You had to run toward the sawdust pit, leap from a wooden board at the edge of the pit and fly as far as you could. Then they measured your jump from the board to your point of impact.


I started running toward the pit. I felt no faster and no less clumsy than usual. I hit the board and began my jump, arms out like wings, knees to my chest.

And then it happened.

Actually, I don't know what happened, except that it was a miracle, plain and simple.

I just kept going, as if a hurricane wind had caught me and carried me. At last I hit the pit and fell forward. I was spitting sawdust when they called out my distance, which was a full foot farther than anybody else my age had jumped.

It's worth adding that I am an Italian-American, and as a population we are not known for our leaping ability. When you watch a basketball game on TV you never hear the commentator say: "Wow! A reverse slam-dunk by Arturo Gianfrancesco!"

In short, gravity has a special affection for people whose names end in vowels, making my broad-jump victory that day all the more incredible.

They gave me a little gold medal with a red, white and blue ribbon. It was the first prize I'd ever won for athletic excellence. It's still around somewhere, deep in a drawer in my old room.

I dislike parades, I'm bored by fireworks and I can do without barbeques, but I do like the Fourth of July. It reminds me of the one day of my life that I truly did fly, and what could be more American than that?

Charlie Carillo's latest novel is One Hit Wonder. His website is He's a producer for the TV show Inside Edition.