OPINION COLUMNS

Meeting a stranger on the road

By Richard Greene | Published Wednesday, March 15, 2017
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The sports desk gets pretty crazy in the spring and this year was at another level.

With a total of 12 basketball teams in the playoffs, playing games all across North Texas, it meant several late nights.

The hectic schedule meant plenty of junk food and even less time and desire to get on the streets to relief some stress. But if that wasn’t enough on my plate, I decided to throw in running a marathon on the same weekend that the Slidell Lady Greyhounds played in Class A Region III tournament. Hey, they offered a free t-shirt for signing up, who could turn that down?

Richard Greene

Richard Greene

Unfortunately along with a busy time at work, I suffered a pair of severe ankle sprains in January, further zapping any real desire to train more than the minimum.

On race day, the only goal became finishing so I could get my participation medal. Which according to social media, I’m learning that there is a nasty stigma for getting recognition for accomplishing a task.

As the miles wore on, my inner commentary became more colorful. Why is Fort Worth so hilly? Where are the downhill portions? Stop saying you’re almost there when there’s still 10 miles to go. And lastly, why are you doing this?

In the final six miles, I found out the answer to that last question.

Over the course of 26 miles, you see many faces over and over. It turns into a constant game of leap frog, as you pass one person and at the water stop they pass you back.

Starting the race, I noticed a guy wearing a bright orange shirt. It stood out to me, mainly because I appreciated his color choice. We ended up running at close to the same pace and for much of the first 20 miles were never more than a few tenths of a mile apart.

With delirium setting in and trying to put off hitting the wall – the mythical portion of the race where your legs go and everything in your body screams “stop” – I pulled up beside this stranger and started a conversation.

He asked me how many marathons this was for me and (humble brag) I offered this was my 24th for some reason. He told me this was his first, which gave me an extra boost of energy.

We exchanged introductions at that point, and I told my new friend John that my whole goal became to get him to the finish line. As we approached a crowd at the next water stop, I screamed, “This is my friend John and he’s running his first marathon.” The crowd gave him a big cheer and applause. I kept this up for a few more water stops until we became separated.

Over the final couple of miles, I lost sight of John as I plowed onward.

After reaching the finish line, I felt thankful to be done. Almost immediately, I turned back to look for John. Wearily standing there, I waited and soon I spotted the orange shirt make the turn and head to the finish line. And like almost watching every episode of “Real Sports”, I felt a sports cry coming on. After he crossed the finish line, he gave me a big high-five and thanked me.

The next day, I was surprised by a friend request on Facebook and soon a message from my new friend John.

“Just wanted to thank you again for pulling me along Sunday. My goal was four hours but will get that next time. Without your help, I would not have done as well as I did,” John wrote.

Yes, there was another sports cry.

Better than the medal or sense of accomplishment, this run that I dreaded for many reasons ended up giving about as much joy as any – all because of a little encouragement for a stranger.

Richard Greene is the Wise County Messenger Sports Editor.

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