Each second brought them closer to the finish line. Just fifty yards to go now. Laverne. Ted. Laverne again. Forty yards. Thirty.
And then it happened. Right in front of me.
They were side by side, dead even. Ted looked at Laverne, who looked back at Ted. They smiled, stopped pumping at their wheels, clasped hands and held on tight. They both raised their free hands in the air in fists and glided across the finish line together.
It was a majestic gesture of sportsmanship and camaraderie. A moment of sublime grace.
I was stunned. Goose bumps prickled my body. A lump of emotion rose in my throat and tears welled in my eyes.
Those two men hadfought neck and neck for more than twenty-six miles, but at the end, they ’d realized that neither was better; that one finishing ahead of the other was somehow an irrelevance. It was not important. Just finishing the race was all that mattered; andfinishing it together, as equal competitors, was still to finish it as winners.
I was trying to grasp their heroic, noble gesture when I heard a disgusted voice behind me. “Now that was stupid! The point is to beat the other guy! ”
I turned and encountered a man in a three-piece suit. I started to explain what had happened to him, but thought better of it. Witnessing what he’d just witnessed and saying what he’d just said, he’d never understand. He had a very narrow definition of winning. And it had nothing to do with spirit.
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In the Boston Globe that next day, the race results were posted. For the record, Laverne Achenbach finished with a time of 1:51:25; Ted Vince rolled in at 1:51:26.
No doubt the fine Swiss optics that recorded their finish detected a slight discrepancy in their positions as they crossed the line.
Perhaps a hundredth of a second separated them, but something far greater united them.
To its credit, the Globe listed both men as third. Understanding their gesture, the Globe ignored the clock and posted their times as they wanted it – as tied.
I carry the image of that instant with me. I cherish it. Their gesture was impulsive, heartfelt -wonderfully noble.
Laverne Achenbach and Ted Vince triumphed by entering, enduring, andfinishing the marathon. But they also triumphed by shedding the pettiness of competitiveness, by celebrating their achievement together.
They showed those of us privileged to see their deed what the spirit of competition is all about.