Running to cope with tragedy

Running and Racing: Christopher Goss
September 20, 2001

I feel so inadequate even trying to express in writing my sorrow, anger, pain, fear, confusion — and about a hundred other emotions — about the horrific events of last week in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

Since seeing the first pictures of the evil unleashed on that dark Tuesday, I have been a punching bag in the middle of a circle of these emotions. Every hour or two, I am randomly gut-punched from one side of the circle to the other — from concentrated anger to anxious dread to guilty numbness to debilitating grief.

I am almost ashamed to talk about this great tragedy and its relation to something as trivial as running in circles. However, it is through the things that are important to us that we will find a way to cope and move forward.

Runners have always relied on the quiet solitude of a long run to work through personal troubles, confusion, and grief. Few of us, though, will have the stamina to come to grips with this one without logging a lot of miles. The answers that often come so quickly after those first couple of sore and stiff steps are well beyond the horizon this time.

By their nature, runners are an independent lot. Like all Americans — all global citizens — we are going to have to work together, though, to get past this hurt to make a brighter tomorrow.

There will be no better way to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the disasters than to somehow bottle up the feelings of community, cooperation, and love that we have all felt this week. I don't mean to sound cliché, but it is true that too often we do go through life looking at the pavement, not pausing to recognize — let alone smile at — the beautiful faces of those that cross our path each day.

Making a better, more caring, community is much more than being friendly. It begins and ends with being involved. In this terrible time of need, we are blessed to have two upcoming running events where we can exercise this increased attention to community involvement.

The Jill Behrman Run for the Endzone Oct. 6 is being run to raise awareness of Behrman's disappearance and the importance of personal safety. Proceeds from the Hoosiers Outrun Cancer race Oct. 20 will be used to support cancer patients in the Bloomington area.

These are not running events. They are community events. Whether you plan to run or not, you can help extend and build upon our rediscovered need for community by volunteering or by being there to cheer heartily for your neighbors.

As evidenced by the unparalleled response to blood donation, many people will feel the need to be — or at least feel — more directly connected to the ongoing physical and emotional recovery in New York and Washington, even though most of us will not be able to travel to these sites. In addition to our prayers, there are significant gestures that runners can make to show support for those hurting at ground zero of those brutal acts.

One very direct way that fellow runners can help is by getting behind the flag relay to New York City that Linton's Greg Collins and Freedom's Curt Carey are attempting. The two began their relay Sunday with Collins running the flag 30 miles from Linton to Spencer. Carey, the 1980 Indiana high school cross country champion, continued Monday with the 21 miles into Bloomington.

To get more personally involved, you might consider borrowing an idea from the Vietnam era. Seeking a way to remember the POWs and MIAs of that war, two young California women began a bracelet campaign in 1970. Over the next six years, nearly 5 million bracelets with the name, rank, and date of loss of an American soldier were distributed and worn by citizens supporting their cause.

Mournfully, most of us already know the fate of the missing in New York and Washington. That should not stop us from honoring their lives. Find the name of one of the victims of the tragedy and write it along with 9-11-01 on a wide rubber band or hospital bracelet. Think about that person whose name is on your wrist each time you go out for a run. Remember how lucky we are to run anywhere we want at any time we want in this beautiful country.

After you have logged a few hundred miles or have run in a couple of races, send the ragged bracelet to the newspaper of the hometown of your "running angel" with stories about your runs and about the bracelet. The paper will get it to the family of the victim who will be grateful and moved that you cared so much for a stranger that meant so much to them.

Finally, follow the marathons that are still going to be held to memorialize the victims of the attacks: the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington Oct. 28 and the New York City Marathon Nov. 4. Mourn the empty spots on the starting line and celebrate the accomplishments of those that carry on.

Together, one run at a time, we will make it through these dark days — driven by the words of the ancient prophet who reminded us that those who are faithful and persevere "will be renewed, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary".

Carpe viam.