June 28, 2009

Achilles Hope & Possibility

Originally uploaded by niznoz
My favorite races are the ones without the money prizes. Less competitiveness, more celebration. Today's Achilles Hope & Possibility doesn't even count as a marathon qualifier, so everyone was there because they wanted to run THIS race.

I had planned to run a mile before the start, but I found myself drawn to the start of the hand-cycle race, about 20 minutes before the foot start. At the front of the crowd of recumbent contraptions was a group of young veterans, most missing one or both legs. They wore khaki t-shirts that said on the back, "We were just doing our job." I was struck by how young they were, you know, half my age. I was moved and misty-eyed for them. They had gone to war, and lost body parts. I felt sad, but filled with admiration that they were racing.

I had a great time running, cheering on the cycle and wheelchair racers, watching the cheering crowds. All the racers seemed to be in a good mood. On the last stretch my speed was frankly falling off, I got passed by a guy, then a woman. As the next guy was passing me he leaned in conspiratorially, pointed to the next runner, and said, "I'm gonna catch her".

Today was my long run day, so after I finished I took another loop around the course, to take advantage of water stations. Now I started noticing other racers. There was a boy, no older than six, running on a prosthetic right lower leg. His dad would lift him every so often, but then he wanted to be put down and ran joyfully, like all children run. There was a girl in braids, maybe 8 or 9, on a prosthetic blade, also running just like every kid in the world.

I found myself filled with happiness, and I realized I had made a mistake at the handcycle start. I had felt a kind of sadness or pity for those soldiers, for what they'd lost, whatever they'd been through, for whatever feelings they might be having. But that was my hangup. Everyone seemed to be having an awesome time. The kids I might have felt bad for were doing kid things in a happy kid way. They were complete.

Every race is a celebration. Sometimes its theme is mourning or memorial, sometimes commemoration. But whether or not it's a race "for" a cause, essentially everyone races like kids. Kids run and are happy. It's enough.

Happy child
From New York Road Runners


  1. YES!!! This is how I feel every time I visit my best friend. It's that "tension of opposites" thing again. The fact of his disability makes me sad often, but HE is not sad! And even though he needs others to care for him in every way, I never leave his house without feeling that I was the one who was being cared for.

  2. that's one of the reasons i so love the sport of running. it's the most democratic on earth. the elite superstars and the disadvantaged all running on the same course. the healthy, the maimed, the skinny, the chubby, old, young and every skin color under the sun. it's a thing of beauty.