The Southern Belles of Hoover, Alabama greeted the 2,050 runners with smiles and parasols as we entered the Opening Ceremony of the USATF Cross Country Nationals in December 2010. On the race course, drum lines dressed in authentic Confederate uniform echoed the rhythm of the runners as they traversed the course. The weekend continued to be a celebration of southern hospitality, southern cuisine and personal accomplishment. I was honored to be competing for my ninth year of nationals. The course commenced on an open grass field and then weaved into forested areas, rolling hills and under stone bridges. The race started out well but halfway through the race I noticed that my shoe had come untied. Unwilling to lose precious seconds by stopping to tie it, I kept on running. I managed to keep the shoe on for a while until the course had a steep hill. As I ran up the incline, I stepped out of my shoe. I had to make a choice to stop and put it back on and lose my position or just keep on running. Spurred on by the beat of the drum line, I didn't look back and completed the last half mile of the course with only one shoe.
Each race has its share of unexpected circumstances. These might include inclement weather, injury, getting boxed in, falling, forgetting a necessary item or losing a shoe. In these moments, I am inspired by the life of the great Louie Zamperini. During his NCAA Championship in Minneapolis, WI in June 1938, Louie was severely injured by some of his fellow runners. In his biography, Unbroken, we read,
“Halfway through the race, just as Louie was about to move for the lead, several runners shouldered around him, boxing him in. Louie tried repeatedly to break loose, but he couldn’t get around the other men. Suddenly, the man beside him swerved in and stomped on his foot, impaling Louie’s toe with his spike. A moment later, the man ahead began kicking backward, cutting both of Louie’s shins. A third man elbowed Louie’s chest so hard that he cracked Louie’s rib. The crowd gasped. Bleeding and in pain, Louie was trapped. For a lap and a half, he ran in the cluster of men, unable to get free, restraining his stride to avoid running into the man ahead. At last, as he neared the final turn, he saw a tiny gap open before him. He burst through, blew past the race leader, and, with his shoe torn open, shins streaming blood, and chest aching, won easily...Louie had run the mile in 4:08.3. It was the fastest NCAA mile in history and the fifth-fastest outdoor mile ever run.” (Hildebrand 43-44).
Because I run, in Alabama I learned that, regardless of the circumstances, we must always finish the race. Losing a shoe was not going to impede my resolve, as Louie’s circumstance did not stand in the way of his meeting his objective. In Louie Zamperini’s book, Devil at my Heels, the Heroic Olympic Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II, he says, “I’d made it this far and refused to give up because all of my life I had always finished the race.” (Zamperini)