This short story became SPIXer (Most popular story) on 21 Jun 2014 and won INR 500
This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
Ladies and gentlemen, I need to introduce myself a little to you.
Ever since my child hood
I believed, at something I am good
To prove my mettle
At anything that is exceptional
I kept trying
Alas, each time I am failing
That’s totally appalling
I was a below average student throughout my schooling with lackluster grades. So, on the education credentials – less we talk, better it would be.
I thought I was good at sports: But was Kicked out of the school Gym for dropping the shot-put accidentally on my class fellow, and he had to be sent to hospital with a fractured ankle: when I tried to lift it and swing it forwards it flew backwards, not my mistake, he should not be standing there!
Then I tried my hand at paining, dreaming to become MF Hussain (and my apologies) or Picasso one day –, though it did not prove to be dangerous to anyone, I scared the hell out of everybody by showing my pictures, every one of them looked paranormal and people looked far and away from what they were looking with blank, confused, pathetic looks and my parents and teachers made me promise that I won’t draw any more.
My friend Manny was learning music and I thought I might have that talent. (See some talents are hidden, they needed to be dug out) I asked my parents to join me into that class. The teacher was a reputed, highly respected local musician and was a very patient fellow.
I was envisioning myself of making peacocks dance, flowers blossom and melting the clouds into rain with my melody, I got the rain for sure; it was actually rotten tomatoes and eggs that rained on me when I gave my first performance in my class, I also thought of melting rocks, it turned out to be pelting rocks and my patient Guru wiped tears of joy when I announced, “Music is not my forte.”
How about dance? I contemplated seriously. May be I have dancing talents, my friends tell me my nose looks like Michael Jackson’s.
But this talent I wanted to go for a trial run in front of the mirror, before performing in front of a big audience, when I tried a few moves I realized how disproportionate my limbs are to my body and moves which looked so graceful when my tutor made, looked skewed and I was in doubt if I was dancing or having spasms and some moves remotely reminding me of the orangutan’s I saw at the zoo the other day. Not daring to continue for fear of my life and my dancing partner’s, I dropped out of dancing class too.
I graduated at the bottom five percent in the class; At least I passed high school calculus and algebra though after my third trial.
Finally to my parent’s relief I got a not so exciting, not so challenging job as stationary clerk in a big office. Chris was my superior. I and Chris shared the corner room in the basement of the office. Chris took care of computers, monitors and hard disk etc. and I kept track of paper, notebooks, staplers, brooms, cleaning supplies and such.
Why not I?
Why cannot I?
No they all say!
No, Nein, Nay, Not, Naahi, Naa
‘No’ is a word that should be sent to Siberia
Life was running smooth until this Marathon bug started eating me away since I read the news that a ninety years old woman ran and finished the race.
When we were out for lunch I just mentioned about my thoughts on marathon to Chris, he was all excited for me.
“Oh yes you can do it. I do a triathlon every spring and it is very much doable.”
“Yes, I do more or less an Olympic Triathlon, I don’t keep track of exact distance and time though.”
“What is it? Never knew what it is exactly.”
“I swim 1.5 kilometers then I bike 40 kilometers and then I run about 10 kilometers”
“Do you do all these in a sequence, at a time?”
“Of course, without break or rest.”
“Oh Yes, I have been doing this since I was twelve.”
I was skeptical. “Is it even real? This fellow who looks like a short barrel of oil doing all these? No, he must is lying.”
“If you are interested you can train with me. This year I also might do Marathon if I could train. We can do it together. I am heading to meadows this Saturday. I will go run on the trails around Mt hood. You are welcome to join me.”
“I will think about it” I said and we both were back to work.
Generally the only time I run is when it is raining hard and I have no umbrella or when a bull dog is chasing me or the last piece of cake is left of the office birthday party.
Now I made up my mind for a much bigger reason: Accomplishment
Let’s enter into a liaison
Cause we have a common vision
In you the knowledge I impart
You just should do your part
Together we can prove
That there always is room to improve
Sure I am that you are teachable
If you give me all that you are able
Let’s create a miracle
I accepted Chris as my running Guru, and he unaware of my abilities and attitude accepted me as his student not mindful of Guru Dakshina.
The Rigors and sweat:
My telephone rang sharp at six. I cursed whoever that was, for disturbing me from my sound sleep and curled up under cozy comforter.
Second time it rang after two minutes. I ignored it and went back to sleep snoring.
Again it rang after one minute. I picked up the phone “Hey buddy it is Chris. You wanted to go for run?”
“What?” I had amnesia, totally forgot about my running project. My god, “Sorry Chris, I will be there in half hour.” I dragged myself out of bed.
“Let’s start with 2-3 kilometers slow run three times a week then you can go for more. You need to have good light weight running shoes.” He was taking this too serious I thought.
“OK, I will buy them tomorrow; Let me run in these today.”
We started the run and after five minutes, my lackadaisical mind was repeatedly asking me “do you really want to do this? Running like a crazy person? That too around this beautiful picturesque mountain.”
But Chris was tough. He would not budge in or let me go.
“You got to do this buddy. Come on. Let’s go”
I somehow finished two kilometers and told him to go ahead. ”I will rest for a while.”
“You tired already? You ran hardly two kilometers, this way it is going to take a very long time before you are up for the race.” Now he is slowly realizing what he got into: taking me as his trainee!
I lay on the grass and slowly drifted into sleep curled up in fetal position.
After about an hour Chris came and woke me up.
“Did you have a good sleep?”
“Hey listen, I don’t want to scare you but there are grizzly bears around this mountain you better be watchful.”
“What? Bears? Are you serious?’
“Yes I am. You got to keep moving around here, you cannot sleep or stay still.”
“Ok. I will keep this in mind.” This Chris fellow hit straight on my week point. I am dead scared of wild animals or rather, all animals.
From then on it was either a run or a stretch: no more sitting or sleeping. I was constantly watching for the bears and other wild animals while there in the wilderness.
Days turned into weeks and months.
Slowly but steadily I developed a liking for running. My ambition, which stared as a germ became a deep rooted tree and the running has turned into my passion.
I was whacking my pullback attitude with iron swat of determination whenever it raised its ugly head.
My rigorous training was taking a toll on my body. Besides extreme exhaustion, my ankles, the calf muscles and hip joint everything below waist was in constant pain. As I moved to longer runs, I was pushing it hard on my body. Chris kept on telling me to go easy between the runs, I would not listen. I was not taking enough rest breaks and not giving time for the body to recover.
Slow and steady wins the race?
No, it was
Spirit and ready that thrust the pace
More appointments with doctors, more bills to pay but my resolve was strong. Then this thing happened. When we came closer to the Marathon date, I rolled over my ankle, and it turned out to be pretty traumatic injury,
Chris told me to reconsider. “May be you can try next year.”
“No. I would not allow my bad luck to control me. It plagued me on every turn of my life. It cannot threaten me anymore.”
“I have to do this. It is my life or death. It has to be now or never.” I bore the pain.
The rigors I take
Damn sure I want to make
Ready for whatever is at stake
With resolve that no one could shake
I ran and ran and ran. Finally I could run the whole twenty six miles that is forty two kilometers in one chunk.
Then I started to work on my running time. Grizzly bears or not I was not concerned, I was just running.
You are all invited:
After we registered for the race I invited my parents from out of state to the event,
“Dad’s response was “you? Running a marathon? Hah, you got to be joking.”
“Thanks for the confidence in me dad.”
“Mom’s response was much better. Honey you don’t have to do this. We love you as you are sugar. “At least she believes that I am in the race. I felt better.
“Guys, I want you to be at the finish line, please I request you.”
I also invited some of my school friends.
They all came. I overheard them saying they want to split over the distance so that they could pick me up when I drop out, chicken out, ditch, runaway or pass out of the race. They were betting on the distance where I am going to dropout: At fifteen, twenty, thirty kilometers shy of finish line.
And the grand finale:
Before start, Chris and I agreed that we will stay close in the race.
“Hey Matt, come whatever may, don’t give up. I will watch you. Just remember you are finishing It.” and we high fived.
The day was crisp and cool in the beginning and was getting warmer by minutes. The sharp sun was almost blinding. I kept on grabbing cups of water from volunteers, drinking and pouring over my head on the route to keep myself hydrated as I run, my feet were sore, my injured ankle was killing me, I was panting like a dog but I kept running.
I was running steady, defying my Nay Sayers, Non-believers and my own ghosts. Ghost of inferiority, ghost of nervousness, ghost of failures. “I am going to be a marathon finisher” It kept me running the entire distance.
I am at the final few yards to the finish line. I felt light in head,
Hurray! Sweet success in my vicinity
Dancing over the grave of mediocrity
I see fireworks going off in the sky,
Thousand violins play
Beethoven and Mozart on the fly,
Everything around me smells sweet,
Golly what a treat
I steadied my ears to hear the organizers announcing “here is our runner 155 Mr. Mathew McCarthy finishing the Hillsboro Marathon. Congratulations–” I turned towards Chris with a widest smile.
I didn’t see him by my side, I stopped and looked back, he was much behind: I saw his unsteady steps, not even run, then it was a fall, he was clutching his heart and I saw he was sweating profusely and then he passed out. A sudden cardiac arrest.
I started running back to him, I hear people chanting my name, and probably they did not see Chris.
“No, no, no don’t stop, run, run finish the run” and rhythmic clapping.
I hear mom shouting at the top of her lungs “Mathew run my boy, finish it, do it for god’s sake do it!”
I reached Chris and sat by him.
“One two three four–” Counting thirty chest compression and one rescue breath, I started CPR.
I did not hear any sound any more than
“One two three four–” Counting chest compression, and one breath.
I repeated again and again and again.
Then paramedics came.
They resuscitated him with cardiac defibrillator, attached oxygen supply tube and put on drips and covered him in a blanket and took him away on a stretcher to the ambulance. Inside, I sat by him rubbing his hand.
They took him to ICU and I stood outside numb.
After 20 minutes the doc came out and said he is out of danger. “He suffered a massive heart attack. He was lucky to have you by his side when this happened.”
I thanked him and the god and left.
“Ouch my sore feet and legs hurt like hell when I walk.”
Run? “May be it is not meant to be.”
The end? It is the star (t):
Is that it?
How could I end it?
No, not yet!
Shouldn’t the tree bear the fruit?
Monday when I was back in office, something was changed. My coworkers seemed very pleasant and some even nodded at me and seemed to acknowledge my existential occurrence.
When I went to my desk I saw two messages on answering machine.
The first one said “Hi this is a call for Mr. Mathew McCarthy runner number 155 in this Sunday’s race. I am David from Hillsboro Marathon. We got a call from Mayor’s office asking about your contact info and I gave this number. Hope I am correct; I got this number from your registration form. We hope your friend is doing better. Have a good day.”
The second message said,
“Hi this is Rose Saville from Hillsboro mayor’s office. We got this number from the race organizers. The mayor is extremely happy with you for saving the life of a fellow runner and he wants to present you the ‘Citizen of the city’ medal in a special ceremony on 15th of this month. And you are also invited to the evening Dinner at the mayors’ residence. Official invitation will be mailed to you. Have a great day”
Then the boss came. I only saw him on the day of my interview two years ago. He came, congratulated me, shook hands with me and handed me the newspaper. In the corner of the second page there was my photo with caption “The Marathon Runner of 2014”. And a small paragraph of the incident that occurred in the race.