November 5, 2003

Ordinary People, Amazing Stories

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The New York City Marathon is the largest single road race in the world. Each year thousands of entrants participate. Sunday was no exception. About 35,104 people made the 26.2-mile trek from Staten Island, over the Verrazano Bridge to Brooklyn, through Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Manhattan again, ending in Central Park. It is a grueling and difficult race. A marathon is one of the single most difficult physical tests one can put the body through. People train for months — even years — to complete just one marathon. The challenge was even more pronounced for three individuals on Sunday. These three people didn’t win the race — not even close. What they did do is demonstrate how far desire can go.

Zoe Koplowitz, a 55-year-old resident of Queens, was the very first runner to start the race and the very last to finish. She started at 5:30 Sunday morning and didn’t cross the finish line in Central Park until about noon on Monday.

Koplowitz suffers from diabetes and multiple sclerosis and used crutches to help her though the course. All the same, this was the 16th New York Marathon she finished.

“I think that’s really the ultimate lesson, you just keep going until you get it done,” she told the Associated Press Monday afternoon. “You do what it takes.”

Koplowitz has done what it takes to finish 18 marathons in her life — she has also run in Boston and London — and plans to finish New York 20 times.

But if you think finishing one marathon is tough, try seven … in a week.

That’s what two intrepid Brits did last week, finishing the New York Marathon in 5:25:46. It was the final leg of a seven-day, six-continent marathon of marathons. Long-time adventurers Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Mike Stroud ran 26-mile courses all over the world last week, though New York was the only organized marathon they attacked.

The week began in Chile, where the pair ran along the Magellan Strait, finishing 26 miles in a very respectable 3:45. Then, they tackled Falkland Islands, a replacement for running in Antarctica. That leg took 4:31.

They encountered trouble in Singapore, the fourth leg of the trip. Stroud, a physician by profession had medical problems in the 90-degree heat, and finished 42 minutes after Fiennes’s 5:24.

But, unwilling to give up, the two plodded on, running along the course of the 1908 Olympic marathon in London, and through the streets of Cairo at midnight.

And still, they finished New York, their seventh such distance in as many days well ahead of thousands of others.

Oh, and by the way, the 59-year-old Fiennes had double bypass surgery in June after a heart attack. Stroud carried a small defibrillator with him through the week in case Fiennes fell ill.

If that’s not a story of the amazing things people can accomplish, I don’t know what is. And that’s what the New York City Marathon is all about. It’s not about the world-class runners or any of the entrants who have a serious shot to win. The marathon is about the ordinary people, and the extraordinary stories.

Archived article by Owen Bochner