The 2014 New York City Marathon. The quintessential race with 50,564 finishers, the largest New York City field in its 44 year history. Just typing that is surreal and thinking back to the sea of runners last Sunday morning, I still have to pinch myself because I can’t believe I was a part of it – a very minuscule role in a very grand celebration of the human spirit.
I feel rather ungrateful admitting that I had to dig deep to find the marathon excitement within me although I was selected as a guide for a second year by Achilles International. I cannot speak highly enough of this organization that does so much for athletes with disabilities across the globe. It wasn’t until halfway through the marathon that I realized how well-respected Achilles International is and how much New York City loves Achilles athletes – as it should. To see the struggle of 26.2 miles on someone’s face, the hope and excitement that the finish line bears for them, is breathtaking and the single most inspiring action you will probably ever witness in a lifetime.
Having said that, the athlete I was chosen to guide didn’t necessarily need my support. At 67 years young, this was his 61st marathon and he had run New York City numerous times before. He was clear with me at the start village that he didn’t need or want any cheerleading or pats on the back for a job well done. While I was cautioned about this from the other guide who ran with him last year, this was difficult for me. Having to quell my inner cheer squad was going to be tough. There is nothing I enjoy more than motivating someone to achieve their goal, no matter how big or small.
But, that’s when it dawned on me. Sometimes it’s the silent encouragement, the sharing of stories, and the laughter that’s the real cheerleader, not the “You can do it!” and the “Way to go!” moments. And so, we shared nearly 7 hours worth of stories about each of us, our families, our friends, and our experiences. I learned that the two individuals I was running with were fascinating family-minded people and that we would not have crossed paths under any other circumstance. We finished – all smiles – which is how I prefer to cross a finish line.
It’s true. Running brings us together. How else would I have ever reconnected with my high school friend Christine or be found in a sea of runners last Sunday on some bridge in the Bronx by my friend Pete calling my name over the cadence of runners’ foot falls?
Marathon #6 is in the books and is one that I won’t ever forget. I can’t guarantee when lucky #7 will be and I’m undecided about whether or not I’ll be guiding again in 2015. I may consider running New York City and raising money for charity, but that is based on several factors. To be continued…