Jan 3, 2011

Why I Run - A New Year's Perspective

Michelline Suarez is not necessarily your typical mom. After raising four beautiful kids, with her eldest already juggling life in the corporate world, and the youngest in high school, she and her husband, Leo, had a major revelation. When most of us would have been relieved to have made it thus far in the parenthood arena, the Suarez's
decided to be new parents again to their youngest child, Vito, who just turned two last May. 

She also kept herself busy over the years running two small businesses, a ladies shoe store and a food emporium specializing in locally sourced products from the Philippines, where she resides. Not accustomed to being on the sidelines, she took up running with several of her close friends, and in a very short period, Michelline qualified for the 2010 ING New York Marathon

Her mission in running the NY marathon is to finish. But she also dedicated her run by raising funds for the Knowledge Channel’s Karunungan 2010 Fund, a program developed to help underprivileged Filipino children with educational opportunities.

Every holiday season, I anxiously wait for Michelline's annual Christmas letter to close friends and family. Her chronicle of the past year never fails to delight as she sits you down like a first-time mom reading to her curious toddler. You take a deep dive into her twelve months of being a wife, mother and friend. Remarkably, she is able to narrate her year concisely and effectively, in the manner how a time lapse video could capture the essence of a place in seconds. Her gift as a storyteller captivates like an Anna Quindlen essay about the simple life. While she has pursued every goal in life with vigor and determination, her greatest gift, in my humble opinion, is her talent for the written word. 

I am honored to share with you the essay Michelline wrote as a tribute to her latest marathon quest. It is about how we should live our daily lives. To cherish the best it has to offer. Life is about stopping and paying attention. In our fast world of text messaging and iPad's, let's slow it down in 2011 to observe and take notice of the little things no technology toy could ever capture. 

New York has always been a favorite part of the world to visit.  I love the aggressive energy of the city, the melting pot that it is, and the best (and worst) of the world that it represents in microcosm.  I love the decadence of 5th Avenue, the hip vibe of Soho and the Village, the brashness of Times Square, and both the rough and sparkling edges of its many vibrant neighborhoods.  But on November 7, 2010, I truly fell in love with New York.

That Sunday morning, I stood, with a few friends, among a sea of 45,000 runners huddled together in 40 degree weather and whipping winds on Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, waiting for the start of the New York Marathon. We prepared for this 42 km distance run many months before, by running long hours, eating right, and preparing our bodies and minds for the task ahead.  Little did I know that I would come away from the finish line with what I realized was an even greater challenge.

As we moved toward the starting line, shedding our blankets like so many butterflies emerging from their cocoons, we could feel the energy throbbing in the air. We were like so many bows drawn back waiting for arrows to be unleashed.   I felt incredibly, wonderfully alive. 

The starting cannon boomed, and with a cheer, we were off.   I ran, and all around me was an ensemble cast in a motion picture that was the marathon.  I was amazed at the display of diversity and humanity around me.  Cancer survivors, people who had had bypass surgery, senior citizens with the hearts of lions.  A father running for his dead son, a sister for her dead brother. I saw people who had lost their limbs, people in wheelchairs, blind and mentally handicapped runners alongside their guides. Recovering addicts celebrating their return to sobriety. Others running, as I did, to raise funds or draw attention to a worthy cause.  People waving and wearing their countries’ flags.  People running in groups or in pairs—husband and wife, grandfather and granddaughter, and yes, many running alone.  All of us, with our own reasons for being their, our own stories.

And the roar of the crowds that greeted us was something to behold.  As we ran into Brooklyn, church bells pealed.  Families, mothers and fathers holding waving babies, children lining up to  give us high fives.  Throngs of strangers on the sidewalks ready with a glass of water, lollipops, cookies, a bunch of grapes, all cheering us on. Old men in lawn chairs, hollering at us to keep moving as they watched the madding crowd go by.  People holding up signs, some inspiring, some philosophical, others just plain funny, all with the purpose of lending hope and a smile. Bridges and roads with spectacular views.  Music—as diverse as the neighborhoods  we passed--from gospel choirs, to bands playing “Staying Alive”  and the ever present theme from Rocky.  Rap in Harlem.  Beyonce in the Bronx.  Coldplay in Central Park.  The thought of the happy faces of our loved ones waiting for us with burgers and milkshakes after the finish.  The outpouring of positive energy pushed us forward, on, on and on, even when it was difficult to think of what distance still lay ahead.  We ran, high on the spirits of the crowd.  We crossed the finish line, shivering with emotion, and knew that we were forever changed.

People ask why I would take on the monumental task of running 42 km when I am not by far a professional athlete nor do I have the slightest chance of winning the prize money or breaking a world record.  As .001 percent of people in the world have already discovered, the mystique of the marathon lies in its metaphor for life. The first time I did the distance, I had personal goals to fulfill.  I have always enjoyed challenging myself and pushing boundaries and I felt the marathon would represent that, and give me the confidence to realize that I could face any struggle and conquer it.  The second time, in New York, I came to realize that we also run the marathon for a different reason. 

I have taken part in many running competitions, but I realized then that more than an ordinary race, this—the New York Marathon-- was a celebration of the Human Race. In the marathon, as in life, we are both runner and spectator.  It is how we conduct ourselves from beginning to end that make it memorable. In the marathon, we forget race, gender, age, country, or religion and know that we are all runners seeking together a common goal.  We get there as best as our own legs can carry us, with the bodies God has given us. Difficult moments humble us and we reach inside ourselves to find the courage to take the next step forward. We share our stories to give camaraderie and hope to others. We inspire each other.

As spectators, we see in the faces of others deep into the struggles of their souls, and we applaud them on.  We wait for them in the difficult stretches, and we shout their names. We are generous with that kind word or pat on the back, that comment that for a moment makes us laugh and forget. We cheer each other on with passion. This is how we should run. And this is how we should live.   

People of New York, that cold day in November, I felt your love. Thank you for standing outside for hours in freezing cold to show us the best of yourselves. Thank you for embracing us with all that was good in you.  Thank you, for reminding us that this tough, gritty, dog- eat-dog city has a very human heart. And that there is hope for us all yet.

1 comment:

sathya said...

Money doesn't mean anything to me. I've made a lot of money, but I want to enjoy life and not stress myself building my bank account. I give lots away and live simply, mostly out of a suitcase in hotels. We all know that good health is much more important.
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