“Laugh, spend some time in thought, move your emotions to tears”. Those were the words of basketball coach Jim Valvano as he spoke at the 1993 ESPY Awards when he received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. Today, as I walked around Berlin prior to my participation in Sunday’s 44th BMW Berlin Marathon, I did was Jimmy V said I should do.
The hotel where I am staying is near the start/finish line. I wanted to be sure I knew my way there on Sunday morning so I walked to the start today. Along the way, I passed the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The simplicity of the stone blocks of various heights had a starkness to it that almost requires anyone passing by to spend some time in thought about that event in the world’s history.
After the Memorial, I walked to the Brandenburg Gate which I will pass through on my way to the finish line. The gate dates to the 18th century and is a major landmark in Germany and Europe. It has been the site of some major historical events from World War II through the Cold War. Seeing the gate and realizing that I would be participating in another of the World Marathon Major events moved my emotions to tears. I am sure those tears will return and be streaming down my face as I run under this monument on Sunday.
And only about one hundred meters from the gate there are cobblestones in the road marking where the Berlin Wall once stood.
I freely walked across the stones where a barricade once stood to separate the city, and its people into East and West. As a child of the Cold War (I was born in 1955 so the city was separated when I was only 6 years old), I stood at that site and again spent time in thought of those who died trying to cross from East to West. There are pictures nearby showing the area from the time of the Walls – there were actually 2 with a separation between known as the “Death Strip”. So, escape from what was then Communist Germany was not just scaling a wall, but getting over one, across the 150 m wide Death Strip and over the other wall. Portions of the wall are in the area as a monument to the past. The wall was not very thick but it imprisoned so many people for so long. Again, I spent time in thought about the oppression of the people and the impact of the wall. As I looked at the wall and what it represents and how it has been placed for viewing throughout the city, I thought of what is currently happening in America with our Civil War statues.
My laugh came while at the race Expo. I went to the expo yesterday in order to beat the crowds at bib pick up. I had been traveling for 21 hours from the time I left my home in Hartford, CT until I arrived in my hotel room in Berlin. Yesterday was a quick in and out. Today was to roam around and see the expo. I had to chuckle as I thought of the universality of running and how the expos are all alike. After doing the outside loop of booths about upcoming marathons (I stopped to talk to those from the Dublin Marathon only to really listen to their accent when speaking), I went into the “bowels” of the expo – that center section belonging to the major sponsor (Adidas) and the their “official merchandise” offerings. I watched as throngs of runners and spectators clamored to get a shirt, or jacket, or cap with the race name and logo on it. I was contemplating getting the Limited Edition Berlin running shoe….it was soooooo light, and had that “new shoe” smell. I decided against the purchase but the laugh came when I realized that all expos are alike. Runners want all the same stuff, we grab handouts from the booths for other marathons around the world even though we have no intent on going. If we see something free on a table, we take it… and today, I was no different than any other runner.. .
So I guess I did have that full day that Coach Valvano told us to have EVERY day.