Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Running Strong

I am an unlikely runner, the very opposite of a natural athlete.  Growing up, I was always the kid picked last for teams in gym class - and for good reason.  A single lap around the gym left me winded.  Rules of team sports eluded me.  The only time I scored in basketball, it was on my own team’s hoop.  (Ooops.)  One P.E. teacher reduced me to tears, insisting I try serving that damn volleyball again and again and again while the other kids groaned, because, “You’re clearly not trying; no one is that bad!”
Actually, I was that bad.  Anything involving hand-eye coordination was beyond me, and the basic athletic ability that allowed most kids to run back and forth on a soccer field (as if it were actually fun!) left me gasping for breath and praying for a natural disaster to end my misery.  If you’d told me at age 12 that one day I would call myself a runner, I’d have said you were crazy.  You know, once I stopped laughing at the mere thought.
But strange things happen in life.  At 17, struggling mightily with depression, I ran outside one day and, much like Forrest Gump, just kept running.  I think the idea was to outrun my problems, maybe to outrun my very self.  Instead, as running one mile turned into two or three, and as I traded my Chuck Taylors for actual running shoes, I found that there was more to myself than I’d allowed.  I was still slow, still had to fight through the shortness of breath and the stabbing pain in my side, but I wasn’t the kid who faked sick to get out of gym class anymore.  I began to look forward to lacing up my shoes and getting out there on the road, on the trails, on the path to some unknown destination that just felt right.  
What I’ve learned since is that running is a sport like no other.  It accommodates all body types and levels of ability.  There are no damn balls or hoops to contend with (hallelujah!), yet there is a sense of camaraderie that makes any runner part of the biggest, most supportive team imaginable.  I’ve lost track of the number of races I’ve run, from 5Ks to half-marathons, but I remember every single time I was struggling and another runner helped me along.  I remember countless kindnesses and laughs.  
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to find myself among the spectators at the Boston Marathon.  That’s a distance I’ve yet to run, a feat that seems amazing to me.  The dedication of those runners impresses me beyond expression.  Which is why, when I heard the news of the bombings at last year’s marathon, I thought it was the most cowardly act imaginable.  I thought of that community of runners - of the sacrifice and hard work on the part of everyone involved, of the tide of positive energy that’s carried me through every race I’ve ever run - and those bombings seemed to me the smallest, darkest acts of terrorism possible.  I was not, however, surprised by the reaction of those present.  The rush to help, the resolve to find the culprits.  That is how running shapes a community.
Yesterday, I watched all those runners crossing the finish line, all those loved ones and strangers alike cheering them on, all those teams of volunteers making the world’s greatest marathon possible.  I watched thousands of people prove that hatred and cowardice never win.  Determination wins.  Hard work wins.  Love wins.
In some ways, I am the same gawky kid who loathed gym class.  I still tortoise-along at my own slow pace, but running has changed me.  When I think of how strong running has made me - in body, mind and spirit - the overwhelming display of resilience I saw yesterday is no surprise.
Of course Boston is running strong.  That’s the only way to run.

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