We approach the dark car - the air crisp, the sky a dull gray. This, the first day of our 2017 Daylights Saving Time, feels like a typical Fall day. Making our way through the streets of Staten Island, he asks, “How long is the race?” as we head towards a congested highway.
No cars are moving, but we show no signs of slowing. The car veers into the HOV Lane and then, the shoulder. This highway is bloating as the cars race to cross a bridge that, by now, is already closed. Like Han Solo and Chewbacca shooting into light speed, we dart forward, ready to beseech a spot in front of the large coach bus ahead.
We’ve been hit. Or rather, we hit. The passenger mirror folds in, the driver grimaces, but we charge forth, right in front of the bus. Slowly, the cars start to align into something that looks more like a traffic pattern and less like a spilt container of matchbox cars.
We empty our pockets. Pull out the gels, the headphones, the cards, the keys, the good-luck charms. Unstrap our phones. As we pass through the security gates, it is hard to not feel some sense of sadness that such an innocent race should require officers with rifles, sand barricades, and teams of dogs. Have we spoiled it all?
We sit in the tent, warm air flowing through the heaters. There are bagels and peanut butter, bananas, PowerBars, coffee, water, and Vaseline. (Don’t try to eat the last one.) As the runners file in, there are mouths drawn tight with determination, eyes hastened with anticipation, and shoulders leveled by relief; the starting line is within reach. In just two hours, we get to line the streets instead of cars.
We’re up. We’re the first wave. There are some final cheers and “good lucks” from the MC. The group gathers in front of the tent, where we stretch with one of the coaches for 10 minutes. We exit the gates of our camp and enter the race corrals. There are so many of us. Some asleep in foil blankets. Some pacing to a playlist they meticulously put together - pump it up.
Pre-race areas all look similar, lines of people in front of lines of port-a-potties. As we weave through the crowds of anxious bowels and make our way to the starting gates, it’s setting in that this race will be unlike any other. There are so many difference faces. There are so many different tongues spinning stories of home…Sweden, Spain, Italy, Russia.
At the starting gate, more port-a-potties.
The wheelchair division has started their journey.
We line the curbs in the street. Attitudes harden. We’re here to prove something. To ourselves. To our families. To our ex-lovers. To our current lovers. To our kids. To our diseases. To our disabilities. To our demons.
Today, we’re able.
The gates open and we start to crawl forward. We ascend onto the bridge and fill in the ranks. There, we face our final gates - two pillars that read “START.”
30 minutes feels like a lifetime.
10 minutes to go.
There is applause of admiration as the crowd splits down the middle. The elites walk to the front of the line. Olympians. Boston legends. Our star quarterbacks. As they situate in the front, another set of cheers starts from the back as one of the visually impaired runners and his guide stride to the front.
There’s no excuse today. Some cannot see. Some have no legs. More are hurting inside. There’s a city mourning the loss of eight, waiting to embrace us will the wound still scabs. The things that tried to stop us, will not stop us.
An anthem later, we cross the starting line.
The journey begins.