As a kid, I played every sport I could — basketball, baseball, soccer, golf — and generally was a wild child. Once my growth stopped in the seventh grade — along with my dreams of playing in the NBA — my athletic career turned to golf, which frequently gets snubbed or teased for its un-athletic sportiness. That being said, I have always been a decent athlete … but I am no runner.
Back in the middle of winter — when any one of us would have happily volunteered to run 13 miles if it meant we could get outside in above-freezing temperatures — a friend who was a Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) Ambassador, inspired me to consider the miniMarathon. Still fresh on my New Year’s resolutions, I committed to run … or walk. I decided the best way to ensure that I followed through on my commitment was to draft the company of my most competitive family member, cousin Jennifer.
The entire week leading up to the run was about the weather; 100 percent chance of rain, high in the 50s. I was so mentally locked-in to running, I was in regardless. However, one of the things I was told by a veteran runner was how amazing and important the crowds are to cheer you on, but that given the forecast, we could be without this year.
By 7 a.m. the entirety of Main Street was covered with people for several blocks. It was remarkable. As my cousin and I made our way to the starting line, looking around this mob of people, it occurred to me what a remarkable community and event we were a part of: The KDF miniMarathon has been run for 42 years and brings together over 12,000 runners per year, plus an additional 2,000 marathon runners; It is a collection of Louisvillians, Hoosiers and people from around the region, as well as serious, competitive racers from around the country. This 13.1 mile endeavor brings together some 15,000 people of all races, colors, classes, athletic abilities, characters and causes as you could ever find.
I was truly blessed to be running with a man pushing his handicapped child; others running for their family members who couldn’t be there; couples out on a “romantic” spring morning run; individuals seeking a personal achievement; others, including my best friend, trying to cross off a bucket-list item; and most important to me, I got to run with my cousin for a couple of hours, just because we wanted to.
Then there were the hundreds of volunteers who showed up to hand out waters, sports drinks and oranges. Even the crowds showed up, braving the frosty deluge to just come cheer on a mass of running lunatics, thousands of people lined the 13 mile course, holding supportive signs, ringing bells, screaming and applauding. I was told correctly: the crowds will get you through it.
These special moments don’t come often enough, and sometimes you can’t plan them, but recognize and appreciate them during or after. The second major revelation during the race was the first time I passed a police officer. This is a significant period in our nation’s history, marred by police brutality, the unnecessary killings of boys and men and violent tensions between police and black communities all over the country.
But when I saw the first police officer, and every subsequent man or woman in uniform, I thought of the Boston Marathon bombing. While the 15,000 runners, including myself, my cousin and close friends, ran for our various reasons, they were looking out for us. Each one of them undoubtedly spent countless hours training, organizing and working to make sure that we could run our race. And as they watched us all run by, they had to know that at any moment they could have to risk their lives to save ours.
So I just want to acknowledge every police officer and volunteer who was out on that cold, rainy Saturday morning. I tried to wave and say “thank you” as I passed, but your presence and work deserves so much more.
It is not just a horse race that brings out the best in Louisville … it is the best in the people of this community that make our city special. Congratulations to everyone who ran, walked, limped, danced and showed up Saturday morning. And thank you to everyone who came out to support, volunteer, serve and protect us. Happy Derby.