Monthly Archives: April 2014

The endurance of pain

Nobody claims that running is an easy sport. Hitting the right splits during a fast 800-meter interval workout is tough. The last few miles of a long race will test a person’s physical and mental limits. Successful runners are those that embrace the pain, who can manipulate the apparent physical exhaustion for one final effort. Running is painful. Start a race too fast; you’ll pay for it. Try to run through an injury; you won’t forget it. But as runners know, the pain in the journey is what gives meaning to each new accomplishment, what inspires us to set the next goal. In the wake of a personal triumph, the effort was worth it.

As runners, we understand this. Get up early for the long runs in the dark, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment all day. Push through the hill midway through the race, and you’ll never forget that PR. Hit the track for extra speedwork, and you’ll have that much more confidence on the starting line. Yet the pain is internal; only we know how badly we want it. Only we know how hard to push ourselves to make it hurt. The cathartic drive to run for an escape from the stresses of life gives an outlet to push ourselves in pursuit of a challenging and meaningful goal. The pain we experience is internal, and can be overcome with a determination to reach one’s potential.

A year ago, our vision was tragically shattered in a matter of seconds. I can still vividly remember reading the headlines of a most unthinkable tragedy that many could not believe had actually happened. The pictures of the victims and first responders confirmed worst fears: running was under attack. As we learned of the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings, we were shaken by the reality that evil and violence had assaulted our first mantra of running: that we control the pain we feel. All of a sudden, a senseless act of terrorism stole the innocence of controlling what running means to each of us.

In the months that followed, we saw entire communities arise to support the movement that would come to be known as “Boston Strong.” We heard the stories of those who witnessed the attack firsthand, and we reached out to the survivors. Boston became a rallying point for strength, as the entire city galvanized to honor their own. The running community around the world united to share the pain of a city, and many were inspired to keep running, to keep training, and return to Boston the following year.

This year thousands of runners will descend to the familiar streets and hills of the 118th Boston Marathon. “We all run Boston” names the slogan for this year’s race. Every runner has a different story, but this year everyone also has a common cause. This year we run for the victims and the survivors, the police officers and medical responders, those who heard the blasts, and those who cried from afar. Almost immediately after last year’s tragedy, a public announcement was made that race would be run again as scheduled the following year. Next week, whether we are toeing the starting line in Hopkinton or running in our hometown, we are all running for Boston. We all run Boston to honor the victims and survivors. We all run Boston to prove that the spirit of the marathon will not be destroyed by violence. We all run Boston to take back the runner’s right to control and overcome the pain we endure. We all run Boston to remember the day we watched in horror, all of us frozen in time. Runners have an odd obsession with time. We count our accomplishments in minutes and seconds; we synchronize our watches; we keep an eye on the clock. But some wounds, even time cannot heal. At every race, I see at least one runner wearing a shirt with some form of the motivational adage: “Pain is temporary; pride lasts forever.” I am proud to be a runner. And next week, everyone will be proud to run with Boston. That pride will never fade. But this time, the pain is going to last a while too.  AN

A perfect collision

Tonight’s women’s basketball national championship game features two teams each vying for a perfect season. With one more win, Notre Dame or Connecticut will cap off a truly remarkable season, not without its challenges on either side. Those challenges, to be fair, were largely internal (injuries or graduation), as both the Irish and Huskies ran the table through their respective regular seasons, conference tournaments, and early rounds of the NCAA tournament. Nearly all of their wins were by double digits, and it didn’t take long for early-season observers to see that this year’s championship was likely going to be a two-horse race. Even matchups with ranked teams could not slow down these two juggernauts. The Irish defeated Penn State, Tennessee, Duke (3 times), Baylor, and Maryland (twice); and the Huskies defeated Stanford (twice), Louisville (3 times), Baylor, Penn State, Duke, and Maryland, all of whom were highly ranked for most of the season. It was clear that the #1 and #2 ranked teams had separated themselves from the pack, and we might as well have assigned them 1a and 1b.

After 76 other games (all wins), Notre Dame and UConn are the last teams standing in each other’s way in the goal of a perfect season. The rivalry between these former Big East powerhouses has intensified over the past few years. And it very well should have. Notre Dame and UConn have been two of the most consistently successful teams of the past decade, each on an impressive streak of consecutive appearances in the Final Four; Notre Dame at 4 and UConn at 7. Over the years, these two teams have traded regular season and postseason wins. With Big East regular season and conference titles on the line, games have been closely contested. A win by one team only fueled the motivation for revenge in the next matchup. They also played against each other in the past 3 Final Fours. The Irish won in 2011 and 2012 to reach the title game, but UConn defeated Notre Dame last season and went on to win the championship. There’s pride and motivation to this rivalry. Each team certainly brings out the best in the other. Both sides boast overflowing talent, multiple All-Americans, and a Hall of Fame coach. Both teams set high goals, and expect contend for championships every year.

But this season is different. In the aftermath of conference realignment, gone are the regular season matchups, and home court advantage. Games between UConn and Notre Dame cannot be used as midseason benchmarks, or give implications for conference titles. After playing against each other 4 times last season, this time they face off once. Each team undefeated. Perfect seasons on the line. Last game of the season. Neutral court. For all the marbles. In the NCAA tournament, upsets are great stories to follow, but this is the finale we want to see: the two best teams playing for the championship. No best-of-seven series; no home-and-home schedule; no rematch next week. Notre Dame and UConn; one game. It really couldn’t end any other way.  AN

A Captain’s Last Stand

I grew up rooting for Derek Jeter.

Living in New York, I didn’t have much of a choice. But even had I not grown up amid Yankees fans, I like to think I still would have cheered for such a player who embodied the highest personal and professional character in modern sports. Over the years, I watched Derek Jeter don the pinstripes and trot out toward the left side of the Yankee infield. I saw how he dug into the batter’s box before launching another single to right field. How he ran out every ground ball. His jump-throw to first. But what impressed me the most was how seriously he took his job; how he worked on the little details to improve; how important it was that he acted as a leader on and off the field. It wasn’t long before he began captivating audiences during the Yankees’ remarkable late-90s postseason successes. He was a winner; he was a Yankee. But most importantly, he became one of the most important faces for Major League Baseball. In an era rocked by performance-enhancing drugs, Derek Jeter’s character epitomized the way that our national pastime was meant to be played. He said all the right things. He worked hard and never took anything for granted. He was a role model for the thousands of kids who fight over wearing number 2 on their Little League jerseys.

The Yankee lineup changed; players arrived and left, but something remained the same: Derek Jeter. The same Jeter was the starting shortstop and batted second in the lineup. The Yankees were Derek Jeter’s team. In the eyes of many, he took the field every year as the same young athlete with enough talent to be the best and a work ethic that would never settle for anything less. I remember sharing the shock of a nation that read the headlines stating Derek Jeter’s retirement at the end of the 2014 season. We never expected that day to come, and yet arrive so soon. Other players would retire, but not Jeter. He was supposed play baseball forever, to lead the Yankees to more wins and more championships, to become the all-time leader in base hits. He wasn’t supposed to get old. He wasn’t supposed to leave. Without him in the lineup, the Yankees would feel incomplete; baseball would feel incomplete.

But that’s not how these stories go. Every long journey reaches the end. And while few people can dictate what that end is, Derek Jeter has decided that the end will arrive sooner than most fans would like. No doubt the previous injury-filled season affected his decision. A player who prides himself on showing up to work and improve everyday wants to play in more than just 17 games in 2013. And while fans just want to see him play baseball, Jeter has publicly stated some of his off-the-field goals, which I’m sure he will approach with the same diligence and preparation that he brought to every ballgame.

Now Derek Jeter has chosen to go out on his own terms, which for him, means chasing one last World Series title that would put the final exclamation point on a legendary career. 5 World Championships, 5 Gold Gloves, 5 Silver Sluggers, 3300 hits, and more “Did you see that?” moments than we can count on both hands. I’ll admit that I’m selfish. I wanted him to accomplish more, because I know he deserves it. If the ball bounces a different way, he might have 7 or 8 rings. Had it not been for a dislocated shoulder and fractured ankle (the only major injuries of his career), he would have been within striking distance of 4000 hits. He will likely retire without a league MVP or a batting title, but multiple seasons have a strong case for either award. I figure a player of his caliber deserves a career that would unquestionably be considered one of the greatest of all time. If ever a player deserved to end his career with a championship, it is Derek Jeter. This last season will be his awaited victory lap, when players and fans around the country will salute a true ambassador of baseball. He will meet fans who have cheered for him during his entire career. He will probably have to sign a few more autographs and pose for a few more pictures. And he should enjoy the ride. He deserves to hear how much we appreciate all he has accomplished and contributed to baseball. But don’t expect his personal reflection and farewell to diminish his zeal for another championship. As we remember how his storied career began with his first ring in 1996, we know he wants to end it the same way.  He doesn’t have to say it, but we all know how hard he will work to bring home the Yankees’ 28th championship. Because that is what the kid from Kalamazoo always wanted: to play for the Yankees and to win as a Yankee. Derek Jeter has always allowed his actions to speak louder than his words. For that matter, don’t expect the Captain’s final curtain call to end quietly.  AN