I could see good arguments on both sides. The mayor was right, the city could certainly use the millions of dollars that would be spent in the city by all those visiting runners. I know many small, family-run businesses and sports stores that were depending on race weekend to ease the hit they have taken from the storm. They will suffer greatly, some probably will not recover. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine all those thousands of runners streaming through neighborhoods which are struggling to get back basic services. Many of those neighborhoods are still without heat or electricity. Some have no clean water. Of course, runners who have spent months training and a lot of money to get to New York are also disappointed. But disappointment is a minor distraction in this emergency. And there will always be another race.
One of today’s planned runners is my friend, Rebecca, who would have been running her first marathon. I am sorry that she will have to wait for her first marathon, but with or without today’s race, I offer my hearty congratulations to her.
It was almost a year ago that I convinced Rebecca to join me on a trail race. It was one of the always excellent races organized by NJ Trail Series. It was her first trail race. She, like me, had not been running all that long, but was very enthusiastic. She had a fairly typical reaction to her first trail race: this is crazy! but really fun! want to do it again! but how do you run without staring at your feet all the time? all the rocks and roots! this is crazy! but really fun!
She couldn’t wait until the next trail races coming up in December.
And then things changed.
Rebecca was out for a run in her town, just a few blocks from home, when a driver in a hurry, impatient with driving behind a frequently-stopping commuter bus, decided to pass the bus. With no regard for who might be in the crosswalk.
Rebecca suffered severe injuries, including a fractured pelvis. She was lucky to be alive. She spent a long time in the hospital, having multiple surgeries. Then came a long time in a rehab. facility. Then a long time in physical therapy.
I spoke to her after she was finally back home. She was still in a wheelchair, not even to the point of relearning to walk. We talked about many things, but I was particularly struck by one thing she said. She told me that while she was in rehab, she kept a picture from that first trail race beside her bed. In her mind, she thought of herself as more of a runner now – when she couldn’t even walk – than she did before her accident. Walking was almost secondary; she wanted to run!
More time passed, more surgeries. Eventually, all the hardware, the super-structure holding her body together, was removed. She learned how to walk again, how to go up stairs, how to drive, how to tie her shoes.
And she started to run.
And she kept running.
And she decided to run the New York Marathon. She ran as part of a team to raise money for Covenant House, which helps homeless and at-risk teens.
Over the past months, I have been thrilled to watch her get ready, and get more and more excited for this race. I have also been envious. Envious of the excitement. Envious of the focus. Envious of that first big race. But mostly, I have been indescribably proud.
This sounds like such a perfect feel-good success story, doesn’t it? But reality is not so simple, not so easy and straightforward.
Rebecca didn’t stick with physical therapy because it was easy or always felt good. PT, recovery, is not easy. It’s not for lightweights! It is difficult and painful and unspeakably frustrating. I know she struggled. I know she wanted it all to just go away. I am sure at times she wanted to give up.
But she kept going. Step by tiny, incremental step. Determined. Consistent. Steadfast.
I wish that she had had the opportunity to run a marathon today. For that thrill of crossing the finish line of a long-anticipated race. Even without that finish line today, though, she is deserving of congratulations and much admiration.
Rebecca, you are my hero!
You inspire me.