By Carl Scharwath
First run, then a stumble
Running should have been in my DNA; my father was a runner and my brother was a great high school track star who ran in the Penn Relays. When I was a junior in high school, I tried out for the track team. The first session we were outside, and the coach was discussing our training and how we would try out for different distances. Like a future prediction of my running journey, a storm moved in with a heavy dosing of rain. Wet and cold we were moved inside the school and told to run laps around the hallways. Wet, cold, and slipping once on the floor I decided this was not for me and I quit, never to run for eight years.
Running was my savior
My last two years of high school and my four years of college in California brought out the worse in me. Drinking beer, smoking pot and cigarettes were my almost daily pleasures. I was always thin, and all the beer had changed my appearance with a huge potbelly. What a sight I was–long hair, beard, headband, and this big stomach I would hide with loose-fitting shirts. When I moved back to New Jersey, my best friend and I loved to play basketball. I would huff and puff down the court but enjoyed sports again. One day we decided to meet at a local park which had a perfect three-mile loop as well as a quarter-mile track. We started to run slowly on the track and were so happy when we made it around just once. As the weeks went by, we started to run the park and eventually the park and the track for a four-mile run. I remember we always rewarded ourselves with a visit to the Sabrett hot-dog cart stationed near our finish line. One year later after running 3-4 times a week, I smoked my last joint and cigarette and only drank beer on weekends. I also started to eat healthy and my profile changed to that of a runner.
This year I am celebrating 40 years of running. I thank God that I can still run and compete. I want to glorify Him with every step I run. We all have favorite runs. Maybe it’s a race, a good run with a friend, or a beautiful place you will never forget. Mine is at the Jersey Shore and the Point Pleasant beach boardwalk. The morning sun greeted me on that early December morning, the weather a brisk 30 degrees. I was alone, the ghosts of families crowding the boardwalk in the hot summer days a memory. All the bars, restaurants, and rides were boarded up with much used plywood that nailed in all those happy times, now hidden. The ocean, beautiful in the music of the crashing waves, a light dusting of snow forever silenced the summer footprints in the sand. The boards under my feet held me in my thoughts as a kaleidoscope of memories filled my soul and the run for the first time seemed ethereal. Maybe my love of running became bigger than the act of running.
Running to creativity
One winter evening my run began at a school up the street. I noticed a police car in the parking lot and waved as I ran past. When my run was over, I stopped at the same street by the school and in a pitch-black December evening, I looked left, then right, and walked across the street. Halfway across I heard two people who were walking on the sidewalk 100 yards away laughing and looked right again. To my horror I saw headlights just 10 feet away from me and dashed to the other side. My heart was racing, and I had this strange feeling walking home that maybe this was not real, after all I did not feel my feet on the sidewalk. Either I was dead, and this was a flashback, or I am in the hospital reliving this tragic accident. When I arrived home, my mind told me to write about this feeling and the next day I wrote a poem and short story. Both were published and I became a writer that day. I truly feel running made me an artist. Many times, on my runs I just think about writing; ideas, good lines for poems, and also, as a photographer, wondrous scenes to photograph. Running is my therapy and a gateway to creativity. I have published two poetry books, shorts stories, a play, essays, and recently my first photography book and I thank running for all if this. That police car? I know what happened. He probably had a call to be somewhere, and pulled out of the parking spot with a great speed and then in the road, after a slight delay, turned on his headlights. I know this as I looked before I walked, and the lights came out of absolutely nowhere. I thank those people who were walking and laughing as they were the only reason I looked to the right again.
I ran almost 20 years without ever racing. When I moved to Florida, I began to run 5Ks and fell in love with the camaraderie and competition. I would compete in only six races per year. In my age group, no matter how fast I ran, I would always finish in the middle of the pack. My dream was to hear my name, come up in front of everyone, and accept my medal. All of this changed when I turned 55 years of age. Magically I started to win medals in my age group and yes, I started to compete more. In the last 10 years I averaged 15-20 races per year and am happy that I can consistently place for a medal. I realize now it is not that I am this great runner, I am outlasting the competition. I will sign up for races as long as I can and to me there is nothing more inspirational than a 70-year-old-and-over runner still competing. I am also inspired by female runners. Most races average 60-70% female and you are the inspiration to all of us with your true love of running.
Be a Running Ambassador
The latest numbers suggest there are 18.3 million runners in the United States. I challenge each of you to find a family member, a friend, or a co-worker and teach them the beauty of running and a way to better health. Imagine if every runner did this, we would double the number to our sport. Share the love of running whenever you talk to someone, be an example by congratulating the winners of a race, talk to those who just ran their first race. Everyone should volunteer for a race to give back to your running community. Finally join or start a running club and be the runner that people look up to.
Running, you are my savior, my passion and my love. I thank you for all you have done for me.
May you be blessed in your running, may you always run happy and healthy.