Monday, April 18, 2005

Life, the Universe and the Boston Marathon

Today is the 109th running of the Boston Marathon. Boston is, well the state of Massachusetts in general, is the living breathing example of "the more things change, the more things resist to change." Just like death and taxes, Bostonians-new and old-can depend on the fact that every Patriots Day (which is usually either April 18 or 19 and always on a Monday) that there will be a marathon. The Boston Marathon is no jive turkey marathon. It is one of the elite races in the world of track and field. It truly attracts an international audience. Every year it can be depended on that Channel 5 will cover it and that Natalie Jacobson will be there covering it. The race will start in Hopkington, a town that no one even thinks about outside of the marathon and ends in Copley Square in Boston, somewhere near the CVS but definitely before the Burger King and Wendy's.

There were some differences this year. The most glaring difference was the absence of John Kelley, the elderstateman, now the patron saint of the Boston Marathon. He died last year at the age of 97. In 97 years, John Kelley saw the race become the elite event it is. He also saw the event evolve for a very white, male and moneyed event to an event that attracts people from countries like Kenya and Russia as well as attract the little guy and gal and those killer wheelchairs racers. In his last frail years they created the role of grand marshall for him. He was honored along the route, so the paper read. His face was stenciled at the starting point. At one point on the route the famous young/old Kelley greets the runners. John Kelley kept doing the marathon even though the one ones who kept winning were named Rodgers and Cherigat.

I think many people wish that they could conclude their lives at 97 years. I don't even know what that would look like for me. It seems hard to look into the future and to feel useful or rather that you have led a good and useful life.

The winner of the women's marathon (the scence of a continuation of a change instituted last year where the elite women start earlier than the men) is Catherine Ndereba. She and I are the same age. She made history in the event by winning it four times. As a Kenyan, she brought pride to her country. As a woman and an age mate she fulfilled the promise of every girl who was shooed away from sports.

I am a big enough sports fan to be sure. I also recognize that athletes are the ultimate goal setters. They strategize and they visualize. They can see the key to a position and figure out how to get there. At least the athletes that are not collecting a check. This is probably why things like the Olympics and the NCAA finals resonate because they evoke those memories of being a kid when you just wanted to play well. Of course you wanted to win but if you did not then you learned how to lose gracefully and how to work harder for the next go around.

Lots of people will have their opinion about the Catherine Ndereba win today. Some will say that it does not matter because she is a woman and they started earlier. Some will be a little unsettled because for yet another year no American-let alone a Bostonian has walked away with the top prize for men or for women. There may be some further unsettled because these people who are winning the prize come from "darkest Africa" and the money that Catherine would receive is definitely more than many Kenyans will ever see in many lifetimes. The Kenyans do it the old fashioned way. While a few of the elite have access to the facilities that their American, Asian and European competitors do, many do not. How could people from this "Third World" country consistently outperform their American competitors? Hard work and sacrifice of course. There will be those who will look at her and be reminded of how lucky we are and of how wonderful she is.

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