Tuesday, November 22, 2011
It Ain't Just Joe Pa
Before I get into that, let me tell you about my last truly competitive race. The Philadelphia Marathon. 2005. Seems like yesterday. I can still taste the explosion of flavors from my favorite pre-race food, a Vietnamese beef broth soup called Pho. I can still see my grandson triumphantly walk into the place as though he owns it, basketball in hand. I can still see the pretty, seemingly carefree women, promenading on South Street and in Chinatown, looking for bargains and oranges. I can still remember those long lines to dirty port-a-potties. And a crowd so large that I spent most of the first mile walking. When I finally was able to run, nearly the first thing I did was step right into a pothole and break my ankle. I carried on for five miles until I could no longer bear the pain, and waited for the sag wagon, defeated. My traveling companion, who was way ahead of me after the starting gun fired, went on to win her age group. But this post isn't about that.
Unable to run, with a foot immersed in ice, I let the cacophony of Philly serenade me. It's my favorite big city. Always has been. I've run the Philly Marathon twice before the indignity of 2005, actually completing those races. No matter where you go, people urge you on. At one point, there's a fellow who rages on a drum, year after year. Farther along, you can hear the faint melody of bagpipes, growing stronger as you get closer. You don't really notice the miles dropping away until you hit the 20th. At that point, you're really on your own, no matter how many people are cheering.
It's a demanding, grueling event. Not really healthy at all, especially when you realize that its first runner, a Greek messenger named Pheidippides, dropped dead as a doornail as soon as he was finished. It takes between six months and a year of training, running long runs every other weekend, to be able to just complete a marathon, to say nothing of racing. It's for mutants, crazy people, bottom-feeding bloggers and Kenyans. I've run 13 of them in my lifetime, so that should give you some indication of what's wrong with me.
Before an injury, and then laziness, consumed me for six years, I was pretty much up on the dos and don'ts of distance running. And one of the biggest don'ts is high school students and long-distance running. A 26.2 mile distance is punishing enough for an adult. For a person who is still growing, running long distances can damage growth plates. I always figured that was why high school cross country teams stick to 5ks.
Last week, I was disturbed by a Newsworks report about a mentorship program called "Students Run Philly Style," in which radio hosts boast that 77 high school kids would be running in this year's Philly marathon. One of them, a 17-year old girl, would be running her third marathon. Why? She likes the hoodie.
This is just insane. Or more appropriately, child abuse.
On Sunday, two people (a 21 year old and a 40 year old) died in the Philadelphia Marathon, precisely because it is a physically demanding event. You don't encourage kids to do this as a "confidence booster." It's only a matter of time before one of them dies during the event, and it's very likely that many of them have injuries that will make it impossible for them to develop fully. How's that for boosting their confidence?
With all the recent discussion about child abuse at Penn State, I have to wonder what the hell these people are thinking. We scratch Joe Paterno's name off trophies while carting five year old kids to bash each other brains out boxing. City Councils are now considering anti-pedophile bills, while South Allentown parents urge their 12 year old sons to "hurt" their opponents in a meaningless football game.
So when everyone wants to condemn Joe Paterno, I have to wonder why they are so hesitant to condemn all the other forms of child abuse occurring right under their noses. These heroes of the day, who vocally condemn Paterno, are often the vampires of the night, engaging in the very child abuse they find so offensive in everyone else. It's not sexual, but it's still child abuse.