How’s this for inspiration?

  • This was printed in June of 2013 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the sixth installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

I started writing this column in hopes of inspiring readers to get moving and get healthy. Not everyone wants to run a marathon, but I think everyone can come up with some kind of fitness goal, no matter how small.

Through running I’ve met some of the most inspirational people. So even if my experiences don’t inspire you, I think their stories will.

I met two of my inspirations within the last week. The first was a tall, fit man who I could tell at first glance was former, or possibly current, military. (I learned later he was retired Army Special Forces.)

We crossed paths while running, and then ended up running side-by-side as we reached our turnaround points on a trail. He asked how far our group was running (14 miles that day), and told us he was at his sixteenth mile and would probably stop at 20. We talked marathons, and I learned he had run Boston in 2 hours and 49 minutes — two years before I was born.

“Now that I’m an old man I don’t have to run so fast to qualify,” he said.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“66,” he said. “I have shoes older than you.”

I was both amazed and embarrassed. This man (I never asked his name) was flying at an 8-minute-mile pace while I was struggling to keep mine under 9:30. And he was running six miles further than me. And he was more than twice my age, actually closer to three times my age.

All I could think was, “I want to be like him when I grow up.”

Two days later I met another inspirational runner, this one a 17-year-old boy.

I signed up with members of my running group to do the Special Olympics Torch Run from Fresno to Madera. Special Olympians and law enforcement personnel from throughout northern California carry the Special Olympics torch from Bakersfield to Sacramento over the course of a few weeks.

We started about 10 a.m. Monday at Chukchansi Park baseball stadium in downtown Fresno and carried the torch up Blackstone Avenue, through Woodward Park, and across Children’s Boulevard over State Route 41 to the entrance of Children’s Hospital Central California. The entire run was 14.3 miles, but we were escorted by Fresno Police and California Highway Patrol officers and followed by vans and trucks that could pick up participants who didn’t want to run the whole way.

There were four Special Olympians who started the run. Three of them hopped into the vans and joined us for the last mile and a half. The fourth, Alex Nuno, ran every inch of those 14.3 miles — with more energy and speed than any other participant.

The 10-pound torch was handed off throughout the run so that everyone could take a turn carrying it. But when Alex had it, he never wanted to give it up. He found the strength to hold onto that torch for at least four miles.

Alex led the entire run. The law enforcement participants kept yelling for him to slow down because he was leaving behind some of the slower runners. He’d walk a few strides and then pick up the pace again. He was just too energetic, too excited and too fast for all of us!

I learned later that he had run this year’s California Classic Half Marathon in 1 hour, 41 minutes (1:41:02.8 to be precise.) With a 7:43-per-mile pace, he finished tenth in the male 19 and under age group.

Although one could tell from his physical appearance that he had some sort of disability, it was impossible to focus on what was “wrong” with him. All I could see was everything that was right about him — he was very smart, very funny, very fast, and had a lot of heart.  

I can only dream of running the pace that he so easily kept.

All I could think was, “I want to be like him when I grow up.”

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