"The Greatest Marathoner"

By: Robert Key - Founder of Faithful Soles

There are rare moments in your life when you are able to personally witness something that will literally motivate you and inspire you for the rest of your days. One such magical moment came for my family and me on April 17, 2000, the day I ran in my first Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest annual race in the world, having begun in 1897, one year after the first Olympic Games in 1896. To put the Boston Marathon in perspective, it is the only marathon in the world other than the Olympics for which an athlete must qualify (qualification times are based on age groups), so simply being a part of the field, regardless of your ability and where you finish, is a wonderful accomplishment and one that only a very small percentage of marathoners will ever realize (more detailed information about the history, eligibility and qualifying times for the Boston Marathon may be found at www.baa.org). A marathon by definition is 26.2 miles and it is estimated that approximately 1 to 1.5 million people worldwide complete a marathon annually. Of that number, approximately 15,000 to 20,000 athletes will qualify for and participate in the Boston Marathon, which represents only about 1-2% of all marathon finishers each year.

Within the Boston Marathon, there are runners who are officially referred to as “Mobility Impaired”, typically being those in wheelchairs, or having artificial legs, arms, or some other type of prosthetic device. They too must meet the rigorous Boston Marathon qualifying standards based upon their abilities. On the day of the Boston Marathon, this group of athletes starts at 10:00 a.m., a full 2 hours before the noon start time for what I will refer to as the main field of “able bodied runners”.

The emotion of simply being a part of this race is overwhelming, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened at approximately the halfway point of my race that day. At around the 13 mile mark, I looked up to see a black man about 50 yards ahead of me and was immediately struck by the fact that he had one leg. His right leg was completely missing from the hip down, and he was wearing no prosthetic device. His only aide was a pair of crutches, to which my mind could not fathom the wear and chaffing he must have already been enduring under his arms, and yet he had barely reached the halfway point. There was not a runner that passed him that did not either pat him on the back as they went by, or at least shouted words of awe and praise in his direction.

I finished my race that day in just under 3 hours and 30 minutes, which coincided with the actual time of day of 3:30 due to the noon start. After finding and greeting my family, we made it back to our hotel room around 4:00 p.m. or so. It was at that time that I shared the story of seeing this man with my father, wife and my 11 year old daughter and 8 year old son. What I most wanted my children to know was that this man had every right to make up more excuses than any of us could ever come up with for not being able to compete in an athletic event like a marathon, yet here he was competing in the oldest and most prestigious race in the world. I wanted my children to know and understand that what he was attempting to accomplish far exceeded anything that the winners of the marathon or anyone like myself had done that day. I wanted them to see in my eyes the love and admiration I had for this man who had only passed through my life for a few brief seconds.

After getting showered and resting a bit, we all decided around 6:00 p.m. to leave the hotel room and walk down to the finish line before dinner and take some more pictures. By this time, the crowd had thinned out considerably, but there were still some runners out on the course. As I stood looking through the camera to snap a photo of my family, I heard loud cheers begin to my far left as another runner was coming down the home stretch towards the finish line to my right, but these cheers had a different and more powerful ring to them, and they grew louder and louder as this athlete drew closer and closer.  It was the gentleman on the crutches, and my family and I were witnessing him finish the marathon. It was now 6:15 p.m., 8 hours and 15 minutes after the start of the “Mobility Impaired” runners.  What occurred next was one of the single most awe-inspiring moments I have ever witnessed, and one that to this day my children still talk about. When he was within about 100 yards of the finish line, after already enduring more than 26 miles, he literally began to sprint on his crutches, and then with less than 50 yards to go, he held both crutches straight up in the air with his arms fully extended towards the sky, and completed the last stretch across the finish line on his one leg.

I have a personal motto that I try to live and train by - “There is no great goal achieved without greater sacrifice.” Simply put, there is not one single thing that is truly worth accomplishing whereby the journey to reach that goal is not far tougher than the actual realization of that goal. Anyone who accomplishes a major feat that seems beyond the realm of possibility has already made the greater sacrifice in their dedication to achieve that goal, regardless of the endeavor. They may not know it, but their journey has inspired those around them and those that will see them finish. Never lose site of your ability to touch and motivate those around you as you run towards your dreams.