Runners are the nicest athletes around. Enough said.
Well, maybe not. Let me explain a little more.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that runners are a different breed of athlete. It’s not just that we can be a bit more fanatical about our sport than others. It’s not that we enjoy pain more than most. It’s not even that we seek out insane challenges for no other reason than the sheer joy of meeting those challenges head on and crushing them into the ground. All of that is true, but what really makes us different is our kindness toward fellow runners and non-runners alike.
First, runners are all-inclusive. Come one, come all. The more the merrier. Everyone is welcome. Really. Runners are on a constant mission to convert non-runners. They know the joy that running brings and want to share it with the world. Their bib numbers might as well be nametags. They don’t care how out of shape the convert is. Everyone has to start somewhere, and runners are more than happy to help the non-runner figure out just how to do that. Don’t look good in shorty-shorts? No judgment. If you’re willing to get out there and put one foot in front of the other, you have a huge community of fans waiting to cheer you on and acknowledge every accomplishment along the way.
Second, runners have each others’ backs. Not long ago, I was frantically trying to find volunteers to help my Wasatch Back Ragnar team avoid the whopping $360 fee that we would swiftly incur if we didn’t find three kind souls to direct fatigued, malnourished, odorous shufflers through the exchanges. For their efforts, they received a T-shirt and my undying gratitude. Yeah, they got the short end of the stick on that one.
Not holding my breath, I put out a pathetic plea to the Facebook nation and, no kidding, within minutes I had three responses from fellow runners. Two of the three who volunteered for our team are people I’ve never met face-to-face. I shouldn’t have been surprised. One of those giving souls, Ashleigh, has even joined our 2012 Ragnar team. Being kind with your time really does pay off!
Third, runners give back. There’s not enough space in this article to list all the charities runners raise money for. I know that there are plenty of other sports whose participants raise money for various charities. Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research. But what strikes me most are the everyday runners dedicating not just their money but their time and their training for good causes.
Take, for example, our own local Huntsman Hometown Heroes. A little disclaimer. I know the coach of the local HHH running group. Elfi Ortenburger and her husband, Rick, have dedicated their time and talents to train local runners for various races all in an effort to raise money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Elfi began her journey with HHH in 2004 with seven participants. Their numbers have swelled to over 200. Some participants are cancer survivors. Others run because their lives have been touched by someone else with cancer. All run because the experience has changed them and others for the better.
Elfi’s husband, Rick, joined the effort in 2005 and has raised over $22,000 in the past five years. Their desire to do some good in the world and help others achieve their goals is what drives the Ortenbergers. During the harsh winter months, they wake up before dawn to mark training courses, set up water stops and ensure safe roads for the runners. They do this each week during training season. They could easily sit back and enjoy retirement, and they certainly do deserve the rest. But they find so much joy and satisfaction in their work that they simply wouldn’t have it any other way.
Finally, runners are simply selfless. While my husband waited for me at the Boston Marathon finish line, he witnessed an incredible act of charity from one runner to another. Two runners were about 300 meters away from the finish line when one of them simply fell to the ground. His body had given out. Both athletes had run hard, but for one of them, the effort was simply too great. The finish line clock was still under three hours, a swift time by any runner’s standards.
Putting aside the chance for a PR, the able runner stopped, threw the other runner’s arm around his shoulder and literally carried the man to the finish line. No one asked him to do this. There were plenty of medical personnel around to help, but this runner knew what it meant to cross the finish line. They were so close. Rather than leave his fellow runner in the field, without hesitation he helped this man achieve his dream. My husband says the crowds went crazy and it was an emotional scene to witness.
But it’s not an unusual scene. I’ve said this before, but our sport is special. There is not a loser among us. We may compete against each other, but we do so with good spirits. We cheer on even our biggest rivals. We revel in each others’ successes and we empathize with each others’ lows. We push each other forward, and we pick each other up.
Running is a community filled with kindness. Maybe it’s the hours of exertion that makes our hearts grow, not just stronger but bigger. Maybe it’s the long, contemplative miles that clear the fog of selfishness from our minds. Maybe it’s the distant stretches of solitude that bring peace to our souls. Maybe it’s the moments of darkness when we’re at our lowest that help us recognize the deep valleys others traverse and make us want to help.
Whatever the reason, we recognize that this journey, while we may start out alone, is one we all undertake together. Whether it’s a race for the finish or a race for the cure, runners are one group you can count on to see it through to the end.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mom, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner who hopes she is working on becoming more charitable at home by finally sharing her S'Mores ice cream.