A crisp and bright October Sunday morning. The kind of morning that inspires drives out of the city seeking clear air and crimson and amber leaves by roads and rivers.
First things first, though. Mom teaches Sunday School and starts her class prep an hour before. Dad is in charge of the kids until class starts, and when the weather is good, a nature walk along the creek fills the time. Today, however, something different.
It’s the morning of the marathon. Dad has been drafted by best friend James to handle snack, first-aid, and petroleum jelly for socks at Milepost 18, which James won’t reach for a couple hours. There will be plenty of time to reach Milepost 18 after Sunday School. The church is near Milepost 4, and a check of his watch tells Dad the race is just starting, a few miles away.
Dad shepherds the kids to a bridge where the marathon route crosses the creek. Beyond, the parkway is a broad, sweeping curve. Dad has done this before, and remembers the joy of clapping and cheering on the runners. But always in the middle of the course, arriving only in time to see the middle speed runners, like James. For once, he wants to see the first runners, and taste the excitement of the leaders. Dad has told the kids about this. But Dad has forgotten who usually leads the marathon.
The kids began to get bored after a few minutes, as the runners don’t appear right away. They cavort and roll in leaves. A few more minutes and a whisper of clapping and cheering is heard in the distance, then builds. At Dad’s yell, the kids come running back to the bridge. They huddle by him at the curb, all leaning out over the pavement, squinting into the distance.
The clapping gets ever closer, as do indistinct yells of encouragement. My eight-year-old boy looks intently down the road. He often does not care or pay much interest in sport, and his attention span may again soon wander.
Suddenly, a small, low-to-the-ground form comes sweeping past the trees through the beginning of the curve. There is a moment of confusion, then recognition. Not a runner, but a man in a wheelchair … and he’s going fast.
Another man in a wheelchair is coming up the outside, gaining on him. They’re almost neck and neck as they sweep through the turn, across the bridge toward us.
I look at my son and note the gradual recognition of what he’s seeing. His eyes grow big. It’s a wheelchair. Eyes grow bigger.
His legs are really tiny. Atrophied, tucked almost like an afterthought into a pouch on the racing wheelchair beneath a paradoxically strong, rippling, upper body. He really can’t walk or run.
My son is a sensitive boy, and his face begins to screw up at the immensity of what he’s seeing. A man who cannot walk; a man who cannot run … is … flying. My boy’s eyes gleam and tears form at the corners of his eyes. Enviably large churning biceps, sweating forearms, and gloved hands literally beat power into the spinning rear wheels.
Men who cannot walk are going to win this marathon.
Misreading his expression, I move to comfort him but he brushes me back and responds quickly, almost as quick as the two men now sweeping by us tucked into their machines.
"Go, Wheelchair Guy, Go!” at the top of his lungs, his voice just cracking. I don’t know which of the two racers he is cheering, but it doesn’t matter. Both racers react immediately to the childish sincerity of that yell, which easily pierces the cheers of the other onlookers. The strain of their Herculean duel notwithstanding; both faces break into broad grins at the cheer.
In a moment they have swept around another corner, still neck and neck. Many more wheelchaired racers sweep by; men and women. Tears are streaming down my face, my son’s face, and his older sister.
A quiet interval, and the running men arrive. All their muscles are lean, and their strides rhythmic and effortless. They are some of the most impressive athletes in the world; some have crossed oceans to run and ‘win’ this race. But they are not so impressive as they might have been just a moment before.
The effort, the striving, indeed the full and complete meaning of sport, encapsulated in one innocent, sincere and robust cheer of an eight year old child. A simple expression of what we often struggle to explain in our closing arguments; the value of strength, the value of physical effort and competition. Not tears of sympathy for them, but a shout of encouragement and tears of joy and wonder.
The 2009 Twin Cities Marathon will be run October 4.
Go, wheelchair guy, go.
As a partner with Bradshaw & Bryant, Joe Crumley has over 30 years experience helping injured people and their families to secure just and fair compensation. Excelling in personal injury litigation, Mr. Crumley has secured numerous record-setting verdicts and settlements and won accolades such as MTLA’s “Trial Lawyer of the Year” and “Excellence” Awards.