Since we were, again, chasing the setting sun Westward around the globe, we got a few time zones on the trip from Amsterdam to New York. Though this is really just a trick of non-Euclidean geometry interfacing with planetary physics, and it provides no benefit to my sleep deprivation, I’ll take it because it means I get to see my wife for an extra few hours! My super-supporter and beautiful wife, Kristin, flew out early Saturday morning from Nashville to spend a few hours with me in New York as I breezed through our home Continent. She was accompanied by Brad, William, and Heather Oldham. Brad is a good friend of mine who decided that he couldn’t miss the opportunity to run his first marathon with me as part of the 777Quest. How cool is that? His wife, Heather, is a childhood friend of Kristin and William is their wee little baby boy who gave me nothing but smiles the whole time we were together. My aunt and uncle, Anita and Steve Scatterday, also made the trip to support me. They drove from north of Boston and brought me a big box of stuff that I’d mailed them before I left for Hong Kong. That aid package saved me all kinds of precious space in my carry-ons through the first phase of the trip- allowing me to upsize shoes again, restock things like lotion and toilet paper, and also accommodate the big yellow XXL North Face Basecamp Bag I would need to bring home all of my Antarctic gear that is hopefully waiting on me in Punta Arenas. My aunt is both one of the funniest and wittiest people I know, while also being very kind and nurturing. Though she talked smack about my whining and served as heckler-in-chief on the race course, she also made a pile of cushions in my bed to prop up my legs and feet and, poor woman, took all of my nasty days-old running gear from those crazy hot races home with her to wash and ship back to me… Thanks Anita! (Kristin and Anita can both be seen photobombing my medal selfie above!)
I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself here. Let’s backtrack to the landing in JFK airport on the evening of January 28, 2017. As you know, I left the country on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated. I know that plenty of celebrities and others swore they would do the same for different reasons, but to the best of my knowledge, they are all still Americans sans self-imposed exile… oh well. Anyway, since I left, I have been unplugged from current events and, really, most things American. Upon landing, I sent a text to my wife who promptly informed me that I just happened to be landing in ground zero of a major protest over a new executive order by Donald Trump. Evidently, earlier that day, while I was running a marathon in Amsterdam and reflecting on how different the people of Cairo had been compared to what the American media had groomed me to believe, our new President and hater of the unfactual and biased media, had signed an Executive Order denying entrance into the USA for anyone coming from 7 Middle Eastern countries. Part of the result was that people were being pulled of planes bound for the USA in places like Cairo, and those who had already been on planes enroute to the USA when the order was signed were being detained at American airports, including JFK. This touched off major protests, the largest of which coalesced at… you guessed it… JFK International Airport on the night of January 28, 2017!
By the time I got off the plane, I had received all kinds of pictures and news reports showing the protests we were about to encounter. How exciting! I wanted to get out my GoPro and wade out into the gathered mob but our group wasn’t headed for the front door and the protests beyond. Instead, after Customs/Immigration, we boarded a train to the rental car lot and missed most of the good action. However, I did get a few pics and did my first Facebook live that showed a big police presence inside the airport, heavily armed US Border Patrol Agents, and a few ACLU lawyer types conducting media interviews with the throngs of protesters just a few feet away outside of the well-guarded perimeter. As I think most Americans do, I "get" both sides of this argument and I realize that there are no 140 character Tweet-sized solutions to problems like these, but that the vast majority of us are better together than divided or alone. I chose to do Public marathons and not just closed 26.2 mile events for my 777 Quest because of my belief in the power of community and the productivity that springs forth from lots of diverse people working together to achieve common goals. I don’t necessarily like everyone I meet in these races and we surely don’t agree on issues of politics much of the time. But I still listen, try to guide the discourse back to positivity when it strays toward the negative, and move on down the line when another individual’s negativity starts to get its tentacles into me. An open, public marathon brings diverse individuals together to work at their varying paces toward accomplishment of their own, very difficult, individual goals. It also gives each individual the opportunity to take some time to assist others in getting to their goals while sharing in the bliss of the other’s personal achievement. Over time, the more people who share in the pain and triumph of conquering their 26.2 while helping and being helped by others to do the same, the more commonality and shared solutions are generated. A marathon is now much easier for me than it used to be, partially because of the physical growth each one has enabled, but mostly because of the growth in my mental capacity to first endure, then thrive, based on the information and energy I’ve gathered from the thousands of marathoners I’ve had the privilege to share this marathon process with. Bringing all the divided factions together to do the excruciating work of solving this Nation’s and this World’s problems seems like a much more daunting task than 7 public marathons on 7 Continents in 7 Days- mostly because only a very small portion of people seem to be willing to do more than talk without listening or working. The only thing my talk did toward the goal of 777Quest was to announce my intent and commitment, out loud, that I was willing to do the study and the work it took to turn myself from a nicotine addicted, lazy, naïve, fat slob into a marathoner. After that, none of what you’ve been reading about was magic or just happened. It all took real work and commitment to see through to the end, regardless of the pain, setbacks, or naysaying which beset the process. If we, as a people, are willing to shut up, listen to the other, keep positive, and work hard toward the goal, we will be better people living in a better country and a better, diverse, world. Ok, enough preaching for today!
So now, back to the much awaited reunion. I arrived at the Hampton Inn in Garden City, NY around 8 or 9pm. Dan’s friends and fellow ASA members were there with cake and a big welcoming party. ASA is Athletes Serving Athletes, an organization spawned by some of my heroes, Team Hoyt. These runners and triathletes push severely disabled ‘Athletes’ in races across the country in modified 3-wheeler running chairs. This gives the runner the ability to help his/her Athlete to experience something most of us take for granted- the physical ability to go run a race if we so choose. This organization understands that just because someone is severely disabled and trapped inside of a defective body that they shouldn’t be deprived of the joy of being outside with all of the diverse people, learning life lessons through participation, as I preached about above. I must admit, I have met and even run with the Hoyts, and have been inspired to push harder and refuse to be limited by excuses because of their example, but I never knew ASA existed. Dan changed that this week by not only running blistering fast speeds with unfailing positivity, but also doing videos each day where he dedicated his race to ASA athletes and runners who transcend physical limitations every day. All of the folks in his welcoming committee were like him and are what I aspire to be if I could just break free from my own self-absorption… Great job Dan and gang!
While I was meeting these folks, I was attacked by a flying 98 pounder who leaped at me from the blindside in full faith and jubilation, wrapping her arms and legs around me. All of my accumulated weakness left me and I was full-body supporting/hugging my dear wife. I nearly melted emotionally as I was bolstered physically in this embrace. We just hugged. Boy, was she a sight for sore eyes! I introduced her around to the group and we headed upstairs, with a couple pieces of ASA Baskin Robbins cake in hand. At the room, Brad, Heather and baby William were waiting with 3 ENORMOUS New York pizzas. I shook hands giggled with baby, told of my adventures, and consumed pizza. Shortly thereafter, Anita and Steve arrived after being lost within a 5 mile radius of the place for ½ hour, something which would happen to them… I mean us… again the next day. Brad was obviously pretty tired and had his first marathon in the morning so the Oldham’s headed to their room, leaving us to our continued story telling, wound mending, and changing out of the old laundry for the new supplies. Well after midnight, I’m not exactly sure when, Anita and Steve departed with my box of discarded supplies, I got my feet up in the air, and Kristin snuggled with me as I crashed into a few hours of good sleep before the 4:45am alarm.
Brad met the rest of the group downstairs and took Dan’s place in our van to the start. Dan rode with his ASA friends while I had Kristin up in the room preparing my Guinness and Alternative World Record race letters that I hadn’t had time to modify and print to be signed by the Race Directors for the next 3 races. The ride over to Eisenhower park was uneventful and, upon arrival, we quickly got our race bibs and had a little time before the start. During that time, I found Frank and Jean Chieppa. They are from Long Island and are the parents of one of my dearest friends, Joanne Chieppa-Rinker. I’ve known the Chieppa’s for nearly 25 years since I went to WVU with their daughter where we were in the same dorm Freshman year, then shared a large house throughout college, before she married my best friend, Jerimy Rinker, in 2001. Since then, we have shared countless weekends, holidays, vacations, and Shooperbowl Parties together, often accompanied by Frank and Jean who visit them in North Carolina at least as much as I do. I could start telling stories about an engagement party and wedding on Long Island or a trip to watch the ball drop in Times Square, but I already used up my extra words in this blog preaching above… so I’ll save those for another day. Rest assured, the Chieppa’s have my back and my love, and on this day, they had my homemade blueberry muffins! I really shoulda weighed myself before and after this adventure- I bet I gain weight!
The race was a pleasant, sunny but cool (30s-40s) affair that consisted of 6 loops around Eisenhower Park. There was a very nice 911 Memorial on a partly frozen goose pond at one end of the course. It had legit steel beams from the towers and large marble plaques commemorating the lost. In the middle was a stainless steel tube framework of 2 towers, interwoven, without anything more than the skeleton of buildings reaching to the sky. On an island in the lake, there was a tall American flag. It was nice to be home. I started the race with Brad, but after a few miles (maybe 6-8?) he picked up his pace to something more respectable than the marathon shuffle I was doing on my sore feet. I was proud of him. He kept that better pace, as best I could tell, throughout the race and finished strong with a much more respectable time than mine.
I spent time talking with a few people like John, a 3 ½ hour marathoner who spent almost a full lap with me before lapping me and surely finishing sub 4 hours. He told me all about his 30+ year marathoning career and the tricks he used to keep growing. I also spent some time with Claire, a Marathon Maniac from Connecticut, who almost convinced herself out of coming in for the race today, but decided to come when she read that we (mostly Lisa) were going to be there as part of 777Quest. She said that she had a tough time capitulating to her excuses, knowing that we were on Day and Continent 5, so she came and was so happy she did. She told of how her Dad had died, proud of what she was setting out to do and how running was her therapy that keeps her in balance. I get that a lot. There are a lot of people who find the act of running to be therapeutic and love the opportunity they have to do it. This is also the force that drives the ASA and feels more pure than why I do it, but what can I do? As you know, I do it because I hate it, and the pain of running ever longer and more difficult events presents the opportunity to grow by transcending flesh and achieving very hard goals. Whatever the reason, discussing our motivations and all kinds of other things out on the course is a real prize for which I’m so grateful. There was another woman, I will have to check GoPro for her name, who ran with me for most of her final lap of the half. She was so nice and engaging, the miles melted into conversation with her. She was celebrating her 59th birthday at this race and was far more concerned about me than herself. At one point, with less than ½ mile to go in her race, she apologized for picking up the pace. I laughed and told her it was just miles- and we needed for her to finish strong. So, we picked it up. With me running just off her left shoulder at a sub-8 pace and telling her to “get it” and “finish strong”, she pounded across the finish with joy- just wanting to assure that I was in her finisher pic. I couldn’t have been more proud of her. I was also finally able to get my heart rate up for the first time in days which felt good. Anita heckled me on the course, Steve was quiet support and had an Advil for me, the Chieppa’s took pics and video while keeping Facebook apprised of my progress and feeding me. When Kristin got there, she jogged with me a bit and checked out my status while also giving me my verification letters and cheering. Though my body was hurting, my soul was full of family and friends. This pushed me to my fastest finish so far and #5 was history.
Afterward, Kristin and I hitched a ride with Anita and Steve while Brad and Heather rode back to the hotel with the Chieppa’s. This ride was a couple minutes for the other car and Brad was showered, popping blisters by the time we got there 45 minutes later. What happened? I don’t know. I know we were very close to being T-Boned at one point and the delay had nothing to do with traffic or detours… I blame Anita- it was all her fault, I’ll leave it at that! After a quick shower and some goodbyes, I ate some of Jean’s meatballs and other homemade food (again, I was not lacking for calories at this stop), then we made it back to JFK where they switched our gate twice and almost caused us to miss our plane. Our names were being announced on the overhead speakers as we ran all-out from gate 4 on one end of the terminal to gate 47 on the other end. The airline was still showing on time departure on the screen at gate 4 while final boarding was happening at gate 47! I was livid as I ran past the gate attendants and barely made the flight- yelling at them to “get their sh** together!” I’m far from perfect. That was the closest we’d been to tipping the delicate logistics cart, which would have brought 777Quest to a screeching halt. Safely on the plane after that near-miss, I gave thanks, cooled down, and fell asleep for a few hours on my way to Santiago, then a tight International connection to Punta Arenas for a race with no bed or food- good thing I had some of those things with my family and friends in the good ole USA!