Submitted by: Charles Smogoleski, District Director of Operations
The day was April 21st, 2014. I was on my hands and knees kissing the yellow and blue finish line every distance runner looks for as I was finishing the Boston Marathon.
Rewind 14 years ago, when I was a freshman in high school and my sister’s boyfriend was asking me to join the Varsity Cross Country Team, as they did not have a full team. I was reluctant at first, being short and out of shape thinking, “Who would run for fun?” I decided to join, and one week later I was in my first Varsity meet, the Benzie Invitational, before I had even taken a class in high school. Let’s just say that race was one to forget, as I finished in last place with a time of 24 minutes, a whole 10 minutes behind the winner, Dathan Ritzenhein, an all-American, future Olympic runner.
Through the next couple of years, I grew into my body and made great friends on the team. Friends I would have most likely never hung out with if it was not for running. I still remember meeting Jesse, a fellow runner, my sophomore year. We had nothing in common. I was the “Jock” and he was the “Skater.” We became great friends and running buddies that year, as we worked out in the summer together and pushed our way to the All-Conference Team. The summer going into my Junior year we made a pact to be the first runners from our High School to go to State Finals in 15 plus years. We worked out before school, then went to practice after classes and led the team in work outs. Before you knew it, we were named First Team All-Conference, took Regionals by storm, and made our way to State Finals. My Senior year we would repeat the feat. We grew faster and stronger, and built off of each other.
Fast forward 6 years to 2010. I was once again out of shape and not keeping up with my running. My soon-to-be wife and I received a wedding invitation that was only a couple months out and we decided to get into shape. Doing what I do best, I started to run again. That’s when it happened – I got the itch to toe the start line and scream across the finish line of races again. I would look to do the little home town, 5k Races whenever I could, not realizing all the good they bring to the community. Every runner or walker was out there to have fun, relive old memories of race days or support a cause. Me, I was out to win, but it had not hit me yet.
I got a little crazy and started to think of all those times my father would come home from a run when I was young. We would talk about The Boston Marathon and how we would run it one day. So I started to look into it and realized I could not just sign up, but I had to qualify. I began to look and signed up for different Marathons. It was 2012, when I was living in Rome, Georgia, and I had the pleasure of running on the beautiful Berry College Campus. Marathon training can be long, boring, and painful, going out and running for 10 to 15 to 20 miles at a time alone. I still remember the day like it was yesterday: there I was, 16 miles into a run, rain hitting me in the face, wind pushing against me, on my final stretch and there he was, another runner just ahead of me. I caught him and then slowed to talk. I had seen many runners in my years, but never did more than a passing wave. Something told me to slow and chat while we ran. Rich and I spoke the rest of the run and before you know it, that day where he was running 18 miles and I was running 20 and we finished after running 22 miles, getting lost in conversation. From that day on, Rich and I were inseparable, both training for the same thing, meeting our qualifying time standard for Boston, working together and pushing each other to where we both nailed our times and signed up.
Now back to April 21st, 2014. The scene was surreal as we walked around Boylston Street talking to other runners we had never met before, stopping and looking at the memorials from where the bombs had gone off just one year prior. It was race day, as we lined up we were in corrals by qualifying race time. There I was standing next to some of the best marathon runners of all time, Meb Keflezighi, who would go on to win and be the first American to win Boston in 30 plus years; Ryan Hall, the fastest American marathon runner of all time, and none other than Dathan Ritzenhien, the same guy who whooped me 14 years ago. A moment of silence and then the gun went off.
Just one year after the bombing there were questions of if there was even going to be a race, how many people would show up, and what the spectators were going to do. Those questions were answered quickly as the running community and spectators came out in masses. There was not an empty spot on either side of the road during the 26.2 mile run. Fans were all over, 5-6 people deep on the sidewalks, and over 1,000,000 estimated in attendance, cheering for friends, family members, and to show support. Army National Guard, Marines, and other branches of the military were there every quarter mile keeping everyone safe. The atmosphere was surreal, the amount of support that came out to watch people run and show that as a community, nothing would stop us from doing what we love.
The race was over, and I did not run a personal record. I did not come close to coming in first place, however I did win. I had finally seen the greatness in running and how big of an impact it has on the communities around the U.S. and the world. You do not have to be the fastest person out there or even ever win a race; however, if you do not sign up or volunteer for one, you will never know the fun you are missing and the people you can touch. There are many small hometown 5ks that are doing it to support a cause. The amount of time and effort volunteers put on to support a cause is amazing.
The opportunity is out there for anyone to accomplish whatever they want; all you have to do is go after it. Me personally, I would rather try and fail then to not try at all, and I would rather go after it and not get it then not go after it at all.
3 things to remember:
- You can always be worse off than you are.
- Suffering is temporary.
- When you wake up tomorrow, having given up is more painful than anything else you could have done.