I offer a true story; an event that I personally witnessed and will never forget. It redefined my entire concept of competition and “winning. ” And it showed me the remarkable power of human spirit, both to endure great hardship and to transcend the moment and achieve a higher plane.
It was the 1986 Boston Marathon. There is no race quite like it. None quite so steeped in history and mystique, with its “Heartbreak Hill” and colorful occurrences over the years.
And marathons have a way of bringing out special qualities in people.
My office was on the same block as the finish line, and that year, I was sitting in the bleachers right at the finish.
It was a cloudy, rainy day. There was a big crowd waiting for the racers to appear at the hill at the top of Boylston Street and struggle down the last half-mile or so to the end.
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The first finishers were the wheelchair racers. As we saw the first of them crest the hill and exhaustedly wheel down the homestretch, I marveled at the willpower, strength, and stamina it must take to be able to push oneself more than twenty-six miles. Life in a wheelchair was pretty inconceivable to me, let alone competing in one as an athlete.
Preceded by motorcycle cops with flashing lights and spurred on by the roar of the crowd, the first racer sped by. He ’dpump the wheels with his muscular arms, then let the chair glide, then pump the wheels some more.
After the hours of anticipation, the finish happens quickly, in a blur. The first across the line that overcast spring day was Andre Viger, in a time of 1:43:25. He was followed seconds later by George Murray.
And then along came Laverne Achenbach and Ted Vince, streaking down the street, neck and neck, their chairs side-by-side, wheels almost touching.
As they rumbled the last few hundred yards, they swapped leads.
One second, Laverne gave a few quick pumps and pulled a foot ahead of Ted.
Responding, Ted summoned some strength and competitive fire deep within and pushed a little harder on his next stroke to recapture the lead.
We cheered them on to what was sure to be a photo-finish! We cheered not for one or the other so much as in general encouragement.
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