Look at them: 30,000 runners, all of them pre-qualified by running previous marathons. Just a sprinkling appear to be competitive. Most paid the $200 entry fee because they wanted to challenge themselves: To be better, stronger, more mentally focused.
At Mile 23 of the New York City Marathon 2021, my son-in-law, Jason, looked like he was just hitting his stride. While my 9-month pregnant daughter and I ambled our way into a bagel shop and later Starbucks for a seasonal latte, Jason was pushing himself beyond the I-can’t-keep-going wall. Later, I asked him how he did it and he said he just got it into his brain that he wasn’t going to quit–no matter the blisters and smoldering leg, thigh and butt muscle-pain. That same determination is pushing him through medical school as an English Language Learner student who immigrated from Hong Kong and became a U.S. citizen just a few short years ago. All the late-night runs after studying and long shifts at the hospital and in the classroom, taking care of now 20-month-old Millie, are as innate to Jason’s character as his dedication to dote on his little girl despite blinding exhaustion. Jason is determined to succeed: For himself, for his family and, eventually, his patients.
I remember when Jason came to America on a Visa and I asked him what he wanted to do? “You’re in America now, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to,” I assured him. He looked puzzled. He genuinely had no clue what he wanted to do having been straight-jacketed into an engineering program at the University of China. When he realized engineering wasn’t his forte, his college counselors relied on aptitude test results and switched his major to religion. Again, religion wasn’t his thing, but he soldiered on and finished his studies, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree.
Here, in America, Jason experienced choice for the first time in his life. Soulfully, he contemplated his future before determining that a career in medicine was his best path. It would come at a cost, however; U.S. colleges wouldn’t accept his University of China credits, which meant he had to go back and complete his four-year degree, which he did in two vs. four years. Imagine, not being fluent in English reading, writing and speaking comprehension and jumping into a field that, even to born Americans, is insanely challenging. Jason explained that studying for medical exams felt like trying to sip water from a fire hydrant running at full blast.
But he’s doing it, the impossible.
And that’s what I was thinking about as I watched Jason and the other marathoners run past me and my fellow enthusiastic supporters who lined New York City’s streets on a brisk, but sunny Sunday afternoon. Yelling runners’ names strewn across sweaty T-shirts, soundbites of encouragement, “Good job!” “You can do it!” “You’re almost done!” hooting, cheering, honking horns, ringing cowbells, clapping for the Jasons and the Emilys and all of those running on behalf of a sick or deceased love one.
“The human body is amazing,” Jason told me on our walk back to the apartment. “But the mind is even stronger. You’d be surprised what you can do.”
Not me, I thought. I could never do that.
Not so, chimed-in my about-to-give-birth 4th grade teacher-daughter who insists that she will join her husband next year. Both babies there to cheer them on, “You’ll be there too,” she smiled.
Great, another worry to add to my list of current worries. Katie already walks miles and miles of Manhattan’s hilly streets to and from work, climbing up and down the subway stairs. Full-term pregnant. How does she do it? How do they all do it? I marvel. In the heat. In the snow. In the crowds!
These post-Covid New Yorkers that I lived with at the height of the pandemic last year, they are something else. Never giving up. Never shutting down or shutting up. Brash. Polite. Living Life Large.
That’s the essence of this year’s NYC Marathon, the reason my eyes got misty as I gazed at the skyscraper of humanity, old, young, rich, poor, Black, White, everyone together, supporting each other as we collectively confetti-ed our support.
Every single person, runners and spectators alike, each one of us with our own challenges, successes, our own set of doubts, together, on this crimson and butterscotch Fall day, saturated in Possible.
Photo credit: The New York Times