Saturday, April 20, 2013

Extraordinary Running

I’ve been watching the news coverage of the explosions at the Boston Marathon.  I was outraged when I saw the horrible photos of Jeff Bauman, on the ground, his legs blown off, surrounded by too much blood.  People cried “FAKE!” and “Photoshopped!” I suppose, because their brains couldn’t wrap themselves around such awful reality.  The photos of him being wheeled to the hospital by a bystander, whose own son died in Iraq, and whose other son, bereft by the loss of his brother, committed suicide.  The young man, bent over the prone body of another victim, possibly the young restaurant manager who was one of the three fatalities.  The pictures of the young boy, Martin Richard, who died while watching his father finish the marathon. 

Recently I was a spectator at the Austin marathon.  (Actually we were coincidentally downtown when it was happening).  I remember the electric atmosphere, the loud bass of the enormous speakers, playing enthusiastic music; the paper cups strewn everywhere, thrown aside after the runners took a quick swig before they carried on their journey; the police, the medical personnel, the splashes of color in the sponsors’ advertisements.  I’m sure that these snapshots were present in Boston as well.

A few years ago my husband and I stood on that very corner in Boston, taking pictures of the little church that stands on the corner across from the Boston Public Library.  Mitch is an architectural aficionado, and loves the intricate details.  As I was a library student at the time, we spent a great deal of time wandering through the buildings of the BPL, starting in the modern annex at the back, then moving to the classical front, admiring the majestic marble lions and the statues representing Art and Science.

Why do people run?  Is it the flush of endorphins that induce the “runner’s high”?  Why would people force their bodies to such lengths, punishing their feet, exposing their knees and ankles to constant injury?  Can it be good for the human body to run for that long?  What does it do to the heart, the lungs?  For those of us who don’t run, it’s a mystery.  After all, didn’t Jim Fixx die while he was running?

Many years at the Great River Road Run
My dad, Bill, was an athlete and a runner.  After a long career as an international businessman, (in which he ran, figuratively, to the corners of the globe) he focused on his physical fitness.  There is a picture somewhere of him in the mid-1960’s on an exercise bicycle at Clark Hatch’s first club in Tokyo, way before health clubs were de rigeur.  (Clark Hatch was described as “a cross between Marco Polo and Jack LaLanne”, opening fitness clubs all over Asia after serving as the Recreation Director at the Tokyo American Club).

Dad had that runner’s body: lanky arms and legs, not an ounce of fat anywhere.  He went to bed very early at night, and was up before the chickens.  He “only” ran half marathons; he was in his late 60’s and early 70’s when he started.  He took part in many of the events in Baton Rouge, including the Great River Road Run and the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot.  One year my two oldest sons participated, aged six and four.  When the starting gun went off, the crowd surged forward, but my younger son stood rooted in his spot, crying piteously and traumatized by the multitude and the gunshot.  So much for his running career! (Although he did run cross-country when he was in high school). 

Dad was a NCAA Track & Field Official, and would travel with two of his buddies all over the Southeast to referee at meets.  One of his favorites, he being a Texas-Ex, was the Texas Relays at the University in Austin.  Back at his old stomping grounds, his life had come full circle. He later refereed at the Junior Olympics and also volunteered at the Special Olympics.

He was a popular employee at a local women’s health club in Southdowns, where he opened up every morning at 5:00.   Which meant, of course, that he was there around 4:30.  He was “Mr. Bill” to the patrons, loved and appreciated.  He got the job because no one else wanted it.  Before he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, he was studying to be a certified personal trainer.

So many mornings we dragged ourselves out of bed to go watch Daddy run.  It was usually dark when we got out there, and as we yawned and stretched, sipping on coffee, part of us felt a little resentful, longing for the warmth of our beds.  But at the same time we were proud of him.  Many a time I recounted the story of my dad, and his commitment to running.  He tried, unsuccessfully, to get me involved in fitness by presenting me a membership to a health club.  He sent me copies of running programs.  I once ran a 5K in Baton Rouge, following behind a platoon of police officers as they sang their cadences.  I do love to run, but my arthritic spine won’t allow it any more.  And I never got to Dad’s level. 

So when I hear about some maniac, lunatic, fanatic, planting bombs at such an event as the Boston Marathon, an event filled with happiness, enthusiasm, encouragement, anticipation, family! my mind just cannot grasp “why”.  What insane agenda is served by killing and maiming people who are there to support their loved ones in their quest to run in a road race?  My jaded mind wandered for a bit to the people who live in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, for whom this is a daily occurrence.  Not much media coverage there. 

I am certain that God created this world with certain physical laws, which can’t be broken.  You can’t drive a car into a brick wall without dire consequences.  Human bodies get diseases.  Yes, people die needlessly.  How can we possibly try to understand the nature of evil?  God is grieving, weeping, right along with us.  We have to accept that there are so many things we will never understand.  

Dad with all of his grandchildren, 2007

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