Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Marathons Ain't Just For Runners

I watched my first Boston Marathon with a runner's mind.

Having challenged and pushed myself to go only half of that distance, I appreciated (perhaps not even fully) what Monday's marathon runners accomplished.

But something else stands out to me, something I didn't even think about as I made plans to watch the race.

I was positioned at the top of a hill, just before the participants would make the final turn. It didn't look like a monstrous hill -- it certainly wasn't Heartbreak Hill. But it was a hill at Mile 26.

Running it was challenging, no doubt. But the ones who struggled the most to make it up the final hill weren't runners at all.

Everyone thinks about the marathon runners. They get most of the glory, at least in the news coverage.

What most people don't think about is the group of non-runners -- the wheelchair racers and hand-cyclists. People should think about them more. They're impressive -- in many ways.

Not only did they complete a grueling 26.2-mile course, they did it under notable conditions.

It probably goes without saying that a lot of the hand-cyclists and all of the wheelchair racers were part of a special group -- people who, for whatever reason or circumstance, had been handed a tough situation to deal with. Many were amputees, determined not to let a disability stop them.

I give this group a lot of credit. (And that's really an understatement.) I'm sure it would be easy to become bitter or depressed facing a situation like these people faced. I'm sure it would be easy to dwell on the negative and wonder "why me?"

For this group of people, the thought probably never crossed their minds.

For them, overcoming life's challenges -- even just garnering the mental strength to deal with the day-to-day events -- is impressive enough. Deciding to race is another. Doing the Boston Marathon is another incredible step.

That final hill was a true test of character and perseverance.

Their sheer will and conviction was evident as they pushed and struggled their way up the final hill, at times coming to a complete stop mid-hill. Their eyes closed, their jaws clenched. It seemed as if time stood still.

They fought gravity, which fiercely wanted to pull them back down to the bottom of the hill.

(I've sometimes noted when I've passed cyclists on the road that they get a "break" going downhill, while "us runners" still have to keep working. Seeing the uphill battles I witnessed on Monday might give me a new appreciation for the work it takes to get to the top of that hill. Perhaps they've earned that downhill "break.")

Each time a racer creeped up the hill, the crowd roared and offered encouragement. Some athletes managed the slightest smile upon hearing the overwhelming support from complete strangers.
The more a racer struggled, the louder the cheers became.

At times it seemed as if the crowd's cheers literally pushed the wheels forward ever so slightly.

Shortly after making up that hill -- and every one of them made it -- they would cross the Finish Line. But the race probably wasn't about the finish at all.

As the words posted at the top of this site remind me, it's about having the courage to start.
These people reminded me you should never be afraid to start. If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen.


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