A Million Stories
“Did anything memorable occur during the race?” The questioner at the other end of the phone was a reporter for a Charleston, South Carolina radio station. I was standing in a phone booth, holding the 60-and-over trophy for the Cooper River Bridge 10-K. Outside I could see the remnants of the 2,000-entry field still enjoying the post-race celebration.
I searched my mind for something a news reporter would think memorable. Someone hit by a car, perhaps? Or collapsing from the effort? Maybe a man had been bitten by a dog during the race. What incident would interest those people who spend their days listening to what happens to other people? Patiently, the man repeated the question. I remained silent. I was still thinking. I did not tell him about the day before. I had been picked up at the airport by a stranger who was also a runner. This morning I was taken to the race by this same man, now a good friend. I had spent less than 12 hours in a house I now and forever would regard as another home.
I did not tell the reporter about the blustery cold at the starting line. The flags on the carrier, Yorktown, berthed at the Point, were straight out and flapping. When the race began, the first mile headed right into that driving wind, yet amid the huge mass of runners, it felt as still as the eye of a hurricane. I did not tell him about the bridge. It loomed up just after we made a hairpin turn at the mile mark. From then on, the wind would be at our backs, pushing us toward this narrow ribbon of steel rising into the sky like something in a fairy story. I have run bridges; the George Washington, the Golden Gate, the Verrazano. For all their architectural brilliance, those bridges are matter-of-fact, utilitarian structures. They are simply there to carry things to the other side. Not so the Cooper River Bridge. It is a thin double span that crosses two rivers and goes for some 2.5 miles to a destination that must be accepted on faith.
This bridge carried us up and over and through to some distant land, to a mythical Charleston. It was not a bridge, it was an adventure. After a while, on dry land again, we finally spilled out onto East Bay Street in Charleston. If there ever was heaven in a race, this was it. I had shed my hat and gloves and thrown my shirt over my head so I was running bare-chested in this perfect weather. Then came the turn onto Queen Street, and everyone began to pick up the pace. “How far to go?” gasped a lanky teenager beside me. “A Half-mile,” I said. He took off like a colt who had seen its mother. His head disappearing in the crowd up ahead.
Then I heard, “On your left!” and two more runners passed me: George Halman, who is blind, and a companion joined to him by a cord at their wrists. Until I saw George, I thought I was doing my absolute best. Now I was spurred to do more. I pulled up to his shoulder, hoping to share in his strength and courage. We went that way to the end. The digital clock read 39:05, my best this year. Afterward, I stood at the chute for a long time congratulating other finishers, seeing in their happy and contented faces the happiness and contentment I felt. Later I wandered down to the ceremony and received my award. It was the perfect end of a perfect day. The reporter on the phone was still waiting for an answer. “Did anything memorable occur during the race?” he asked once more. “No,” I said. “It was just like all those other races we run every weekend.”
My parents honeymooned in Charleston, SC for a few days during his tour of duty in the US Navy during WWII. He loved Charleston.