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Georgia....A True Competitor

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12/3/99 

Some of my comments recently on the "Disturbing Trend" subject (subsequently re-posted Dec,2001 as "The Decline of American Marathoners") seem to have stepped on a few toes or touched a few nerves. Especially among some who thought I was being critical of slower runners, who were not the object of my comments. Let me tell you a story, which I posted on the Beginners Forum earlier this year, about a local Baltimore runner named Georgia. To me, she personifies competitive running.

I first met Georgia at my third road race in 1983, the Preakness 10k that was run as part of the week long Preakness horse race celebration. The race started at Pimlico race track and made it's way through a neighborhood before returning to the race track. The final 1/8 mile was on the track in front of the grandstand.

Out of several hundred runners, the last finisher that day was Georgia, a woman in her late 50's. As she made her way down the track to the finish line, her round, bespectacled face was brilliant red from exertion. But, she had a huge smile on her face. Many runners, who had long finished were in the grandstand enjoying post-race refreshments, gathered at the rail and cheered her to the finish line.

As many of us who later met Georgia were to learn, it was her first race and she was absolutely thrilled to finish it. Georgia became a regular at local races, racing almost every week, and continued to be the perennial last place finisher. However, her enthusiasm for what she was doing quickly made her a favorite among local runners. At every race, runners would quickly grab refreshments after finishing and return to the finish line to await Georgia's finish and cheer for her.

One day Georgia won her age bracket. Oh, she had finished last again....she was the only woman entered in her age group. That didn't diminish her thrill and excitement one bit. Nor, the crowd's happiness for her. She had worked hard for her recognition.

Finally, a race came in which she didn't finish last, but in front of another woman who was running her first race. Georgia congratulated and embraced the woman after they finished. They became fast friends and were regularly seen together at races. Sometimes one finished last, other times the other did. But, they were always together and encouraging each other.

Gradually, Georgia progressed as a runner. She became a little faster. More people began finishing behind her. By now, she was moving through her 60's.....and up in the field. Georgia never came close to reaching mid-pack, but she rarely finishes last anymore. She is now (1999) 72 years old and still races many weekends. Earlier this year, she ran a 5k in 43:53 and finished 784 of 793 and 5th of 6 in her age group (60+.) The woman she beat in her age group was 11 years younger than she. She also ran a 41:28 5k race in May and finished 730 of 742. Best of all, she is just as enthusiastic about her running today as she was 16 years ago when I first met her and we were both novice runners.

One last anecdote about Georgia. She had never run a marathon and realized that she could never qualify for the Boston marathon. However, when the Boston field was opened to everyone in 1996 for the centennial race, Georgia entered. She finished last that day......in 12 hours. She was running so alone at the back of the pack, she got lost. But, she wasn't going to DNF. No one knows how far she ran that day as she tried to find her way back onto and through the course, but it was certainly more than 26.2 miles. Just after midnight, she finally arrived at where the finish line had been earlier in the day. No one was there to witness her finish of the Boston Marathon. But, no one who knows Georgia has any doubt that she did. She didn't get a finisher's medal that day. But, a local race director who knows a Boston Marathon official arranged to get one for her. It was presented to her at a local race in Baltimore.....and she was thrilled, proud and enthusiastic.....as usual. :)

Georgia is not a run/walker. No doubt there are times that she walks in a race. Certainly she did a lot of walking in her Boston Marathon. But, Georgia runs every race as hard as she can. She isn't out there just to finish and have a good time, but to do the best she can.....to strive for excellence. She is a true competitive runner.

Jim2