Thursday, October 13, 2005

sea of humanity

sea of humanity
Originally uploaded by aerolith.
First off, that's not my picture. I found it on flickr. I didn't get too many photos on Sunday. I have one of Julie after the race that I'll post.
Watching the Chicago Marathon was an unbelievable experience for me. I am not a sports fan. (I know some of you are saying, what about baseball, Skate? Baseball is a religion folks, not a sport.) I usually don't pay any attention to marathons, unless you count being mildly ticked off when one crosses my path on my way to work.
In the past I would never have gotten up at five thirty in the morning to watch a bunch (try 40,000) of random people run through a city, but this time my cousin Julie was among those random people.
Julie is more like a sister to me than a cousin, we grew up a few blocks from each other, and although she is six years younger than I am, she possesses a quiet maturity and spiritual calm that I have always respected and admired. She ran the marathon last year and I did not go. My mom, my sister and Aunt Patti (Julie's mom) went and talked incessantly about how awesome it was. I figured I'd go this year and see what all the fuss was about.
Annie and I took the train downtown Sunday morning. We met up with our folks, donned matching red shirts that read "Julie D. from W.G." and saw Julie off at the starting point. We then hoofed it down to the 13 mile marker, which is about the halfway point. The throng of people didn't stop us from finding a good spot to watch for Julie's pace group, the 3:40s. Annie and I had made posterboard signs that said things like "Go Julie" and "What lies ahead and behind is nothing compared to what lies within us" and "Julie D. from W.G." so she could see us and know that we were there to support her.
As thousands of runners passed us, the crowd shouted out encouragement to those in the race. Most people had their first names written on their shirts. Cries of "Go Joe!" and "You can do it, Molly!" and "Good Job Sheryl!" were constantly called out from the crowd. These were random people calling out to other random people, showing support for strangers in a way I have never before seen. The atmosphere was like a giant party, with cheerleaders.
After Julie passed us we split up. Mom, Dad and Aunt Patti went on to the finish line to get a good spot, and Annie and I tromped down Canal Street to the 21 mile marker just outside of Chinatown.
Julie said that last year, the 21 was the hardest point for her. She stopped. She was lying on the ground, ready to quit. Another runner came over and gently talked her to her feet. He told her that if she had made it this far, there was no reason not to finish. He knew she could do it. She got up and finished the race, with no idea who this guy who had gotten her back up off the ground was. Annie and I decided that our girl didn't need to rely on the kindness of strangers this year. We would be there.
It was quite a hike down Canal, and just out of downtown, we encountered the East Pilsen Street Fair: a swarm of people, booths hawking everything from fake Versace handbags to car parts to elotes (delicious hot corn on a stick with chile powder), and little room to maneuver. We pressed thru, and made it to the 21. We were sure we had missed Julie, and our hearts sank. I couldn't find anyone in the crowd of runners with a 3:40 pace number on them. I saw a 3:30 and a 3:50. I was terrified that we had let her down. Annie was cursing the East Pilsen Street Fair under her breath and I was starting to shake, on the verge of tears when we heard Julie scream "Anne! Sarah!" and there she was, looking strong, beautiful, amazing and, well... sweaty. She waved off the banana she had asked us to bring and shook her head at our offer of water and ran right by, gracefully blowing my mind. I felt so much pride and respect for Julie at that moment my heart almost burst. I turned to the lady next to me, who was looking at me as I jumped up and down like a monkey and shouted "That's my baby cousin!" She smiled and nodded. "You must be so proud."
Annie and I caught a cab back downtown, after our scare with the 21 mile mark, we decided not to risk walking. Our legs were burning from racing thru East Pilsen, and the adrenalin rush left me feeling as if I had run eight miles too.
We found Mom and Aunt Patti, but Dad had disappeared. We later found out he had weaseled his way up to the grandstand and had gotten himself a sweet seat in the bleachers. Julie saw him as she crossed the finish line at 3 hours and 47 minutes, 26 minutes faster that last year.
After much stressful regrouping the day ended, and I was off to The Congress Theatre to watch the roller derby semi-finals. I met my friends, we had a blast. In all the excitement of roller derby, I couldn't stop thinking about my little cousin Julie, who has grown into an incredibly strong, fast young woman; and my respect for her which has also grown, exponentially.


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