You can’t imagine actually playing in the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the World Series, or the Masters.
It’s unthinkable to believe you could really compete in the Daytona 500, or at Indy, or ride a thoroughbred in the Kentucky Derby.
Those are NOT public access, available-to-enter events. The American sports calendar slows to a crawl for them, along with bowl games, the BCS National Championship, the Final Four, and the U.S. Opens in golf and tennis.
The gateway to those Opens is ever-so-slightly accessible, assuming your game is elite and you can survive a series of sectional qualifying tournaments. A handful of “normal” people make it all the way through.
The Boston Marathon stands alone. Yes, there are qualifying standards, and yes, you’ve got to be a pretty strong distance runner to make it into the field. But THOUSANDS do it every April, and they did again Monday. Among the estimated 31,000 entrants, all are serious runners, but they are nearly all recreational athletes, running for the sheer joy of it.
They are convinced running 26 miles, 385 yards is fabulous. About a half-million people line the race route, cheering them on.
Those runners are people who shop for their shoes in the same stores you visit. They are probably a bit pickier about what they buy.
Monday, probably a half-dozen or so of your neighbors from Caddo and Bossier Parishes were there in Beantown, running the race of their dreams.
They all felt the same immense pride at reaching the qualifying standard in their age groups, then at being in a huge pack at the start (all 31,000 don’t start at once!), at conquering fabled Heartbreak Hill, and at crossing the finish line on Boylston Street in front of the Boston Public Library. Those joys are shared by the world’s best and the rest, thousands who come from not only across America, but from around the world for this race, this unique experience.
It is unfathomable to me. I sit here typing and spooning away at a DQ Blizzard. But as I was reading Teddy Allen’s Spotlight on young Hayden Slack’s first Boston Marathon, I thought of Frank Bright, who ran his 16th Monday.
The 78-year-old retired Shreveport attorney took just over five hours to finish. He was 25th in his division, 13,447th among all male runners and 23,084th overall. He finished – again. He finished, a couple of years after a heart attack that he didn’t know he’d had until a checkup sometime afterward. Monday was his second Boston Marathon since he added three stents to his inventory.
Frank Bright took up running – a mile, not 26 of them – as a senior at Fair Park High School, and won the 1961 state championship four months later. He ran his first marathon at age 35, and now has over 60 under his belt.
I also thought of Mindy Stokes. She could have died there, in 2013, near the finish line, cheering for Victoria Willis, her former coaching pal on the Northwestern State Lady Demons basketball staff. Victoria crossed 10 minutes before the bomb exploded.
“I was 20 yards from the bombing site. God was looking out for me. Had Victoria stopped and walked, and a lot of them do, or had she been slower … “ she said.
When the evil erupted, Victoria and Mindy were two blocks away. They heard the blast.
Her husband, Dr. Marc Stokes, went to Boston a year later, taking his son Connor to a Red Sox game. He had to see where Mindy was standing. He had to give thanks for what didn’t turn his life upside down.
Both women have been back since, Victoria running, Mindy supporting.
“I didn’t go to the race at all. I met her after. I was hesitant to be in the crowd. I hate that it affected me that way, but it definitely did,” she said. “Victoria ran, and she did well, and she’s done it another time. Victoria is brave for running again. But she loves to run.”
That passion. It has hold of Frank Bright and his very, very small group of peers. It tugs at Victoria Willis and the others who ran in 2013. It is undeniable, and for many, unquenchable.
Whether on Heartbreak Hill, or along Clyde Fant Parkway, when they are running, they are beyond reason. They are obsessed. They are enthralled.
The fortunate few get to be in Boston, on a mid-April Monday, like Frank Bright, Victoria Willis, Hayden Slack, and maybe somebody down your street, someone you saw at the grocery store.
That is what sets the Boston Marathon apart.