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A running friendship saves the life of one pal

/ Source: The Associated Press

Frank Lynch had been in Antonio Douglas' head for nearly 10 years.

The sarcastic sexagenarian seemed to revel in mocking the 5-foot-4, 330-pound Douglas, lumbering around the Cactus Car Wash lot. But of all the taunts Douglas had endured from his boss over the years, this was the one that stuck.

"I'm going to be 70 soon," Lynch boasted in his heavy Scottish burr. "And I can run twice as fast as you can."

Douglas made a decision: He would make Lynch eat those words.

A year and a half later the two friends have raced twice — each claiming a victory and winning a total of $22,000 for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. But given their fierce competitiveness, it wouldn't be a surprise to find these two lining up for Douglas v. Lynch III: The Ultimate Revenge.

Relentless insults aside, this is a tale of an unlikely friendship that saved a life. It kept a boss from giving up — or letting up — on a man he considered not only a business investment, but a personal challenge.

Years before they met on the starting line at Grady Memorial Stadium, Douglas was hired by Lynch to supervise one of his car washes. It wasn't exactly a fast friendship.

"He was just anal," Douglas said, an observation that also translates into an unprintable seven-letter description he had for his boss. "He wanted perfection. We had growing pains."

But Douglas soon won Lynch over with his work ethic and sense of humor.

"He can do all kinds of impressions," Lynch bragged, and laughed as Douglas mocked the Glasgow native. "I felt an affinity towards him. There are other people who work here who I like, but nobody I felt that connection to."

Growing concerns

A bond developed between the black employee and his older, white boss, who became like family. Lynch was there to help Douglas through his divorce and brags about Douglas' teenage son like a proud grandfather.

"Antonio, you're getting bigger every time I see you!" Lynch exclaimed when he came from Charleston, S.C., to visit the franchise.

Lynch had grown fond of Douglas, and watched with concern as his friend grew heavier. By 2007, it had become a real effort for Douglas to get around the car wash, and Lynch took every opportunity to remind him of it.

"His stomach turned the corner before he did," Lynch said. "We were all getting anxious about his health."

Douglas didn't let on — Lynch was getting to him, "but it also motivated me," he said.

The old man kept wearing on him, but he was worried, too. But when humor didn't work, the boss turned to scare tactics. He knew Douglas' son had a promising future.

"I told him, 'I predict you're not going to be around that much longer,"' he said.

Lynch admits some of his motives were selfish.

When Douglas decided to have gastric bypass surgery in April 2007, he told Lynch and his wife before his own family. When he woke up from surgery, Lynch was his first visitor.

"A lot of people say they care about you, but when they show they care, that means a lot," Douglas said. "Anybody else could've said the same things and it wouldn't have meant nothing to me."

David v. Lynch

In the six months after the surgery, Douglas lost 112 pounds. And he challenged the old man to a 100-meter race.

Douglas v. Lynch was set for Oct. 28, 2007, and word spread quickly among the employees and customers as the sprint turned into a public showdown.

"I thought, there's no way that an old, kilt-wearing white man can beat me," said Douglas.

Those looking for a good cause — or maybe just a good laugh — bought tickets at $3 apiece in 10 days. More than 800 tickets were sold and more than $10,000 was raised.

"He's a freak of nature," Douglas said of his 69-year-old boss.

The younger man nearly lost his pride from the constant teasing around the car wash. A video of the race was played on a loop in the lobby for a month.

Douglas had to discipline himself, and as he did the pounds continued to fall off and he grew determined to mount a rematch. Lynch got wind of the plan and confronted his skinnier friend.

"I hear you've been shooting your mouth off," Lynch told him. "Are you serious?"

Their eyes locked. "I'm serious," Douglas said.

"I realized, he's for real," said Lynch, who had beat non-Hodgkin lymphoma and whose wife had won her battle against breast cancer.

Fitter and slimmer

In the past year, Douglas replaced eating to excess with exercise — lifting weights for half an hour, swimming for an hour and walking for 45 minutes a day on his treadmill. He hasn't had a soda since before the surgery and has traded in his bucket of fried chicken for a grilled chicken salad.

Now 43, Douglas, who has since been promoted to general manager of the car wash, is significantly fitter and slimmer, at 179 pounds. Still, he knew better than to take his 5-foot-7-inch, 158-pound boss for granted.

"I gotta be faster," he said in the days leading up to the Oct. 26 race. "I feel stronger. I feel healthier. But he's cagey."

Around the car wash, he was feeling the pressure — not just from Lynch.

"You can't let him beat you like that again," one of men said.

The statement was more than just a word of encouragement. There were side bets at the office.

And on that Sunday evening as the sun set at Grady Memorial Stadium, the men took their marks. And this time, it was the younger man who crossed the finish line first. Even though both men stumbled and fell towards the end, Douglas won by two seconds.

Which was fine with Lynch. Better to lose the race than to lose his friend.