100-Year-Old Finishes Marathon

I followed the plan this weekend and worked hard at what I was supposed to do. I heeded directions and I take pride in that because I know that the plan is smarter than I am. However, while I was trotting along, on Sunday, October 16, Fauja Singh finished the Toronto Marathon in under 8 hours becoming the oldest person to finish a 26.2 mile run.

What an inspiration. You see? Anything is possible. You just have to want it enough to do what it takes to get there. This 100-year-old man had always dreamed of completing a marathon. So he did.

The CBC.ca article that covers Fauja’s story describes that crowd control barricades had been removed, sponsor banners torn down, and I’d assume that the throngs of people had ceased by the time he was getting his finisher’s medal. But of course his friends and family (and the media) were still there to watch him demolish his original goal of 9 hours. What a feat. What an amazing human being.

His story reminds me of the most memorable moment of my Boston Marathon experience, the nugget that sums up the spirit of this madness. I have forgotten the physical pain, both from injury and just running 26.2 miles, that passed through my body that day. I know it happened, but I can’t feel it anymore. I have also forgotten the intensity of the battle to keep on left, right, left, right-ing. I know it was hard, and I know it made me stronger. But it makes me teary eyed and introspective to remember seeing the very last man at Boston 2011 cross the finish line. I will never forget it and when I’m having a rough day that man is one of the things that keeps me going.

Rewind.

When I finished that race we went back to the hotel. I slithered into the bath, took a long while to get my legs to support my body again, limped to bed, took a nap, took a long while to get my body vertical again, and then decided that I had it in me to attempt a celebratory dinner and drinks nearby. We crossed over the course and what had been a mad scene just hours earlier was quiet and dim. Only a few volunteers remained with truck to pack up the last of the supplies.

As we walked down Boylston, and I relived my own magic, we heard a volunteer say, “Here comes the last guy. Yep, last one.” We stopped and turned to watch a middle-aged fit-looking man make the last turn onto the street that would become the finisher’s chute, just .25 mi to go. I felt pained watching him as he hobbled back and forth on nearly locked legs, hunched over. But he was running. And he was going to finish. We started cheering and other pedestrians began to holler, too. Our cheers didn’t pressure him; I didn’t even see acknowledgement cross his face, probably because he didn’t have energy to share a smile simultaneous to the task at hand. Security followed tightly behind, and he continued to run down Boylston at a pace slower than an average walk until he got where he wanted to go. He had finished off his 26.2 miles and we witnessed the quiet and humble end to his long day.

When he crossed the line he simply slowed to a stop, thanked the volunteers who had saved him a medal and guarded his checked bag, and walked away. No family, no friends, no fanfare. I felt sad for him to have not been part of the scene of earlier hours, but in my heart I know he didn’t care. He either started knowing that it would be a tough road or made a decision part way through to make it happen no matter the cost. As he went on in his day I’m sure he stopped to reassess the plan many times, and he knew what he was coming home to. But no matter he wanted it bad enough to finish what he had started. And clearly, he finished for his own pride.

And now I’m practically in tears. Really.

To me, that moment illustrates more beautifully than words can the spirit of what this is all about. You see, it is possible. You invest yourself enough to, without second thought, do what it takes to get yourself where you’d like to go. Maybe it’s a long road, but what you experience along the way is just as worth it as the finish line.

Hats off to you, Fauja and Mr. Boston Finisher. Thanks for the reminder.

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