News and Tribune

April 1, 2013

CUMMINS: Crossing the finish line

Local columnist

— Whatever you start, you should finish, before it finishes you. When most of us started life, we soon became caught up in racing through it. Upon jumping to the floor, I used to race to the coffee pot, then to work where my sweat drops raced. When I retired, I sat, but soon started racing again, writing articles and many other things including exercising my legs by running them as my tongue hung out. Dogs do this, too. 

Many people plan to exercise, but don’t. Although diet and exercise help prolong life, a recent survey revealed that only 3.5 percent of Americans get the recommended amount of exercise. It’s only a minimum of three 30-minute sessions of vigorous exercise per week. Reclining people think runners are crazy. You’ll ruin your knees and won’t be able to walk, or you’ll have a heart attack. I often run around a graveyard, and would rather have a heart attack there than turning to dust in a rest institution.   

 After a surgeon performed arthroscopic surgery on both knees, I asked when I could run again. He said, “You won’t hurt your knees if you can stand the pain, so you can run today.” I ran easy until the pain stopped, and six months later crossed the finish line at the New York Marathon. 

Twenty-seven days after open-heart surgery, including 11 days in the hospital with five in intensive care, I asked the cardiologist when I could run again. She said, “Today.” It was dark when I got home, so I ran the next day, and my heart, body and spirit healed faster than if I’d couched and watched exercise programs on TV.

Running and racing is gasping for breath as waterboarded terrorists do. It’s either insufferably hot and humid, or the wind chill cuts to the bone. The hardest part is tying on the running shoes and taking the first stride — God help me. He does and I get warm, loose and in a gliding flow provided by a mysterious and amazing source. For me, running is a cleansing process, extracting the impurities, clearing the mind of its cares and reviving, not withering. It’s as if the wind shifts to your back and takes you along unimpeded to a kind of exhilaration that only effort coordinated with body and mind provides.

Running races adds to the “fun,” — after you cross the finish line. The results are electronically timed, and broken down into several categories including gender and age groups. Run, check the website a few hours later, and find exactly where you placed overall and in your age group, categorized in five-year segments up to above age 75. Soon I’ll hit the 80 mark and train for the final race, crossing, I pray, through the Pearly Gates to races down gold-plated streets. “You raced through life and been through hell already, so I’ll unlock the gate for you. Please note, this is a no-racing zone, so take your sneakers off and rest eternally sitting on the left side where the racers are.”  

It was 34 degrees and a 5k race, a spring warm-up for the longer races. My knees and heart needed antifreeze, but I charged on like dumb Custer did. It took an eternity. No, it didn’t, it took three more minutes than my set goal, big deal. With legs buckling and lungs wheezing, I moved on through the mob exiting the chute at the finish line, and to bottles of Gatorade and snacks to help remain upright. You commiserate and congratulate the finishers, all ages, sizes and shapes, a fraternity you belong to and never want to resign.

  Missed my goal, but how about giving thanks for the blessing and the gift of body, mind and heart working in harmony with a power, unexplainable. Then something in the mob bumped into me, hard against my weary legs. I turned and looked down; “Sorry.”

She said, “No, I’m sorry.” She was beautiful, about 17 and pushing along in her wheel chair; they race, too. “How’d you do?” I asked. Her beautiful bright eyes expressed it all. It was obvious she wanted to tell someone about her accomplishment; lucky me. It was pure joy expressed in a humble, yet animated and electrifying way. “Oh, I did it and I’m going to do it again and again. I can’t wait.” There are other races coming up, and if she can do them, I can, too. I’ll look for her. 


— Contact Terry Cummins at