23 November 2011

What it is to be TOUGH...

My most favorite race I have ever run would be the Schuylkill Navy Run in Philadelphia, PA. It's a fairly small race run through Fairmount Park on every Thanksgiving Day. It is a closed race as you must be a member of a Schuylkill Navy club or a member's guest. This means that it is almost all rowers or former rowers.

It is cross-country... part of it is on streets but much of it consists of dashing across park lawns, and there is a section cutting through the Horticulture Center (I remember a few years the access gate was still locked when the runners showed up, so some of us ended up hopping the 20' fence while others ran around... sooooo much longer). Knowing the course is a real advantage. Practicing the sight lines and the tangents really increases your chances of placing well. If you are the front-runner and don't know the course, you will ultimately be screwed.

What I loved about this race wasn't just getting out there and sweating on Thanksgiving morning surrounded by a whole lot of friends and teammates. I loved that it was physically and mentally challenging. Working the course to one's advantage was a huge part of the fun...if you knew it, that is. One of my rowing coaches prided himself on how well his athletes did in the Schuylkill Navy Run every year...it was because he had us out there practicing the course. We did mile repeats over sections of the course. We did intervals coming up on the most challenging of sight-line sections. We were prepared.

It was an intimidating race, and I didn't run it every year. There were a couple of years I was injured, a couple of times I had out-of-town family gatherings, and one time I was snowed in at a friend's house in New Jersey. I only ran this race three times in the 8 years I lived and rowed in Philadelphia.

Just three times.

But this post isn't really about me.

This year, Fred Duling will be racing for the 52nd consecutive year. He has the oldest active race streak in the country. Fred is a long-time member of Malta Boat Club and former national team rower. And for many years, he was a solid masters competitor.

What makes his situation even more compelling is that shortly after Thanksgiving last year, Fred suffered severe injuries after a very bad fall. Please click the link to read more about Fred Duling's story. Paralyzed from the abdomen down, Fred will be competing in the Schuylkill Navy Run 2011 in a wheelchair. The linked story tells us that his daughter Sara will assist by pushing the wheelchair up the steepest and grassiest portions of the course.

When I think about the fact that he ran in this one race fifty-one years in a row... 
When I think about his fall and injuries and rehab...
When I think about his drive and determination...

It all renders me awe-struck.

And so very thankful.

It is not simply my own mobility for which I am thankful, it is also the knowledge that a person can persevere and keep finding a way to continue to do what he loves against seemingly insurmountable odds. I am thankful for the human spirit.

Go, Fred! Go, Sara!

Wishing you strength and desire as you head up to the Belmont Mansion at the turnaround...you can do it!  You WILL do it!

Happy Thanksgiving.


  1. That is amazing and very, very touching. Wow.

    And the race sounds awesome, especially the year that you guys had to jump the gate. :) That's a blogger's story for sure!

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

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  3. THIS is what it's all about. I wonder how many of us will be able to stick at it for as long as Fred has?

    Dude is a sage practicing a lost art where BQ'ing at the expense of everything and taking a 1/3rd of your calories in via supplements isn't as important as just doing what you do.

  4. Thanks for sharing that! Wow I love the incredible endurance of the human spirit!

  5. Girlfriend, you continue to amaze me. With your discipline, joie de vivre, and insight. I am SO cheering for you on the virtual sidelines!

    I am humbled to hear about Fred and how he's run the race for 51 times in a row! And that despite his injuries and limitations, he doesn't stop. Instead he continues to find ways to do what he loves and enjoys the most. What an inspiration!

  6. wow...amazing. what an inspiration.
    happy thanksgiving to you and your family.
    I am thankful for your blog.

  7. Wow - that is amazing! Very insperational. Thanks for posting - hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

  8. this is such a nice story. Sometimes when I'm running I think man I am sooooo happy to have the ability to do this. I couldn't imagine having to go through the loss of mobility but then stories like these, where someone has the guts to push through make me wish I will have the courage to be just as strong if something like that ever happens to me.

    Way to go Fred :D

  9. What an inspiring story! That is truly amazing. Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving. :)

  10. Sounds fabulous. I was raised just a bit NE of Fairmont Park.

  11. What a great post. Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. Now that truly IS awesome. Love stories like this one. Thanks!

  13. I just popped over here via the blog hop. Loved the post and I'm inspired by Fred Duling. Truely amazing.

    Fit Fridays with Lani

  14. popping in from the blog hop - so glad i did - a moving story!


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