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Reaching this finish line would be the greatest victory of all

C.C. Pyle Marathon

AP Images

Jim Schroeder - published on 08/02/17

We often ignore the most amazing accomplishments because they take a lifetime to accomplish.

In 1928, a showman named C.J. Pyle staged one of the most unlikely sporting events of all time — an annual event that he promised would be “unrivaled” in the annals of sports. In Southern California, 199 professional and amateur runners from across the globe gathered at the starting line of the “Bunion Derby,” with a goal of running across America. This wasn’t  going to be an ordinary race. As Pyle juggled the coordination of a traveling circus to help fund his cross-country run, the athletes endured countless injuries, scorching heat and bone-chilling cold, death threats, and wayward drivers in their pursuit of immortality.


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Eighty-four days and 3,421.5 miles later, only 55 runners would enter Madison Square Garden for the last leg of the race. Pyle had rented the arena to accommodate the masses of people he was sure would come to see these athletes cross the finish line. But they never came. Although the sidewalks were full of people on the way to the Garden, few people shelled out the $1.65 required to get in. Many of those that did left disappointed.

As remarkable as the journey was, for most of the competitors it was a lurch to the finish, as their bodies had endured almost three brutal months on the road with not a single day off. It was anything but graceful, certainly nothing like the spectacle that had been advertised.

Almost 90 years later, big sporting events such as football, featuring the fastest, most powerful athletes routinely draw crowds upwards of a 100,000 people. When it comes to running, many might know the record holder from the 100 meter dash (Usain Bolt — 9.58 seconds). But quick, can you name the marathon world record holder? (Answer: Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto – 2 hours, 2 minutes, 52 seconds). I suspect few know this, including myself until I looked it up.


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Regardless of how you compare the sanity of these events, it seems obvious that we as a people are generally more enthralled and interested in the spectacular and instantaneous than in the enduring. In some ways, this makes sense. Our attention wanes rather quickly if we’re not entertained by the sensational and the speedy, and thus athletes with freakish abilities are usually the ones rewarded with large sums of money.

Yet, beyond the comparison of sport, something seems amiss with this phenomenon. As the marathon of life progresses, most of us come to realize that the prizes we desire are given not to the fleetest, but to the ones who can endure. Whether it’s seeing our kids graduate from college or looking forward to that first grandchild, or working towards a long sought-after promotion, the real victors of life are often those that find ways to persist through days, weeks, and years of challenge.

But do we find ways to reward and recognize feats of this kinds in the way we do a winning touchdown? Whether it’s a toll booth operator retiring after 39 years on the job or the hospice worker who takes care of the dying for two decades, as a society we don’t seem to go to great lengths to acknowledge this kind of accomplishment for what it is. Sure, the honoree might not come with an Odell Beckham-like highlight reel. But in taking away nothing from this remarkable athlete, I can’t help but think that 50-plus years of marriage might be one example of an event we should celebrate the most.

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Recently, my Grandma and Grandpa Schroeder were over for our twins’ 11th birthday. Grandma just turned 85. Grandpa is not far behind. They have been married for 64 years, and their life together started in the small town of Foley, Alabama, where my father was born barely ten months later, while Grandpa was in the navy during the Korean War. I have never seen a headline about their accomplishments, their ideas, or any “amazing spectacles” except for a small blurb on their anniversaries a few times in our local newspaper.

As my wife and I approach our 17th anniversary, I love and admire my grandparents for so many things — not the least of which is their enduring commitment to each other. I love that my kids know them in this way, and I hope that someday my kids really understand what a beautiful, remarkable gift this is.

Like anyone who reaches a similar milestone, their road hasn’t been without trials. But in the long run, they’re set to finish the race. Just the like the cross-country spectacle in 1928, their journey may look different, especially given the rate of divorce and the number of changes that often occur in living situations, but in an age where we often ignore the most amazing accomplishments because they take a lifetime, how wonderful it is to be a spectator of such a remarkable feat!

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