As a healthy 24-year-old, I was humbled by the 26.2 miles of the Los Angeles Marathon. It was not the stretch of concrete or the uncensored heat which humbled me. I was humbled by the racers old enough to be my grandmother, running past me as my limbs felt like they would fall off the rest of my body.
My father also humbled me, because he is legally a Senior Citizen, so while his age gets him discounted dinners and cheaper bus fares, he slowed his entire stride to stick with me. Afraid that I would not finish or that I would be sitting alone on some corner in L.A. while everyone else packed up and went home, my fit father coached me along all 26.2 marathon miles. Thank you.
At mile 15, I was not wearing a watch, but I looked down at my wrist, at the wooden beaded bracelet I bought from the North of Iran last summer. While some people ran with signs that read “for Jesus”, I remembered the movie “Children of Heaven” about the two siblings who have lost a shoe, and the brother is running in a race, with the hopes of winning a pair of shoes for his little sister.
The first place in the film wins a pair of shoes; the first place in the L.A. marathon wins a new car and $50,000. Running through South Central L.A., the tiny hands of beautiful little kids reached out waving hello and giving high-fives, families with plastic buckets of orange wedges, strangers with strong smiles that push you through the next mile, these are the ways I was humbled on that Sunday. Thank you L.A.
Seventy dollars is a high price to pay just to run on the public streets of L.A. What if 25,000 people — old, young, couples, teams, schools, elite athletes, amateurs — all ran into L.A. City Hall demanding better schools, health-care, clean air, drinkable water? Clearly, 25,000 sneaker-clad endorphin elated runners, walkers, cyclists, and wheelchair racers armed with the vision of a more just world can make world news.
As 25,000 people burst from the downtown business district through South Central, Hollywood, and Korea Town, the race expressed a kind of unity in L.A. I saw all colors, ages, and shapes of people in the race but I also know that people who struggle to buy a loaf of bread cannot easily dish out $70.00 to run. When my dad was 24, he certainly could not pay the fee for a race; his real concern was paying rent and finding enough cash to buy a bag of potatoes.
For me, finishing the marathon is like going to college, it is the least that is expected given that I have been privileged with all kinds of resources. The true heroes — at graduation and the marathon finish line — are the single mothers, the kids who grew up in public school poverty, and the terminally ill patients who do not give up.
At age 64, Soraya Maadi is a true hero of the marathon and the greater Los Angeles community. With a two hour bus commute between a modest Santa Monica apartment and work everyday, she still manages to train for the race. Soraya and her son Mammad came to the United States 15 years ago, when her son was diagnosed with cancer. The mother and son team spent an entire decade nonstop in and out of hospitals during the cancer treatments.
For Mammad who is undergoing hormone therapy, exercise and physical activity are critical in his health and healing. Soraya participated in the Los Angeles Marathon to inspire her son to do it; she wants to show him that if at age 64 she can finish the marathon, he too can do it.
During the race, Soraya fundraised $1,600 for patients of Leukemia-Lymphoma blood cancers. After finishing all gruelingly hot 26.2 miles of last Sunday's race, Soraya and countless others — have returned to the daily challenges of the lives they are transforming. In the end, in doing the marathon, Soraya says “I believe I am alive.”