As a resident of New York City, and a fan, I was truly inspired by being witness to two World class events that unfolded this past weekend. As a volunteer participant, for both, the Saturday, November 3, Olympic Marathon Trials, in Central Park, and the November 4, 2007, NYC Marathon, through the 5 boroughs.
At the Olympic trials, had the honor of being a crossing guard at the 25 mile mark, where we saw Ryan Hall, pass in record time to win, and who will represent, along with Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell, the United States in the marathon at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Hall won Saturday's Olympic marathon qualifier in New York City with a time of two hours, nine minutes and two seconds, while Ritzenheim followed at 2:11:07. Sell was next with a time of 2:11:40, just over a minute ahead of Khalid Khannouchi.
The event, however, was marred by tragedy, as 28 years old champion runner, Ryan Shay collapsed five and one half miles into the race and died only 50 yards from where we were standing.
One of the most inspirational moments, came with the honor of a chat with Sister Madonna Buder, a nun from Spokane, who started running at the age of 52, and has since run 25 marathons and numerous Iron Man competitions the latest in Hawaii, this past Summer.
Told her I planned to run in the next NYC Marathon, she sternly coached: "You better start tomorrow!"
For the NYC Marathon, some of volunteers met, at 4 am, on 89th street near the park to be bussed to Staten Island staging area and where we assisted the athletes by passing out bagels, tea, water, a river of Gatorade, Power Bars--Dunkin Donuts served coffee--and all attended to the needs of the pre-dawn vivacious and cheerful crowd, numbering approximately 40,000.
Then as the race was about to start, met with one of the volunteer team leaders and moved into position at the Grand Stand and stood blissfully enthralled and cheered right in front of the starting gate.
While near the Start Line, was privileged to meet and chat with Beth Moras, a world-class marathon champion athlete, from Ridgefield, NJ, mother of three, her youngest age 8, who further inspired to compete next year.
We watched in touching distance, as the most courageous entrants, who without legs, and then those who had immobilized legs, started 30 minutes ahead of the others in their new age, specially built carbon and titanium hand wheeled, tri-cycles. Don't think I will complain about aching joints too much anymore. These courageous athletes with an overabundance of determination, amaze everyone to finish with faster clock times than most runners, using only their arms.
When the crowd heaved, roared, applauded, goose bumps rose again as the top professional woman runners of the world were introduced by officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who officiated the start of the race.
Next came the final announcements, The Star Spangled Banner, with Military Honor Guard, it was the start for the world class Professional men, the NYPD and NYFD runners, the cannon report, and the massive field behind them and the wave of colorful bodies bobbed across the Verrizano Bridge
After the start, as part of our bonus for coming in early to help out, the volunteers were bussed to seats at the Finish Line to see the spectacular and most inspirational race to date, where cleared of the field well in the beginning and first and second finishers, 33 year old, Paula Radcliffe of England who gave birth in January, sported a tremendous kick to win over Gete Wami of Ethiopia. The ladies hugged at the finish line in celebration of their respect for each other.
Thrilling does not quite capture the feeling, as moments later the men streaked by equally competitive, with Martin Lel of Kenya and Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco running side by side into Central Park in the second part of a battle they began last April in London. In the end, it came down to a sprint - and Lel pulled ahead, his winning kick gave him a 12 seconds lead. A stunning triumph!
Anyone can be inspired by the skills of the elite, but the most heartfelt enthusiasm comes as the stirring finals of all the participants of all ages and time finals with their family, children and supporters cheer from the sidelines. Hearts stirred tears rolling down loving cheeks in a silent almost spiritual celebration.
When you see the determination of others, who have no legs (or they are blind) or the "Achilles club,--volunteers who give their time to assist others through the course--or those who run for family members with a chronic disease, or a related cause, or who started at advanced ages and have completed so many competitive events.