Today, I ran the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for the seventh time. It never feels easier, no matter how many times I've done it. But one thing that has always struck me is the number of people out there trying to make it easier for us. Thousands of volunteers are out on the course handing us water, Gatorade and bananas, even cold sponges at some points, and then cleaning up our mess afterward. These volunteers don't know most of us, but they cheer us on anyway. It made me think back to the service forum that both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain appeared at on September 11 at Columbia University in New York. I know the type of volunteer service both candidates were talking about was different from the volunteers at the marathon. But I am humbled to see high school kids and younger out on the course, spending their Sunday helping out. If those kids were given the chance to help out on a national scale, I can only imagine what help they could and would be. I'm also humbled to see those paid volunteers, like medical personnel and police officers, helping out on the course. Toward the end of the race, a few people weren't doing too well. The temperatures made it into the 80s, and runners were cautioned to stay hydrated and slow down. But even those warnings didn't prevent incidents. Whenever a runner slowed down and stopped, either a medic, police officer or even fellow runner would stop to make sure that person was okay. I saw several police officers keeping watch over stopped runners until medical personnel arrived. I saw other runners carrying a man off the course, because he could no longer walk. Those runners didn't care about their times. They cared about helping where help was needed. That too humbled me.
Last year, the race was a disaster. The temperatures were much higher and the organizers hadn't prepared properly. Gatorade and water were running out by mile 2. Further along in the course, runners were struggling to get both at aid stations. I managed to finish before the race was canceled, but it was a horrible scene. People laid out in medical tents or just on the grass or street. Wailing sirens everywhere you turned. It was scary. But even then, people helped people. If it wasn't police officer, medics or volunteers helping injured or ailing runners off the course, it was other runners. Residents living along the course were handing out bottled water to runners, or dousing them with hoses. Everyone pitched in.
This year, the heat wasn't as bad. The Gatorade and water didn't run out. But spectators along the course still helped out by handing out oranges or water of their own. Residents again were out with their hoses. I am beyond grateful for the way Chicago pitches in for this race. It isn't just the organizers who make this race great, but the people of Chicago, and those who come from other states and countries to run and watch. Without them, I just don't think this race would be the same.
At a time when a contentious election is going on and people are spewing hate, I am humbled to see a city come together like this for a race. We're not Republicans or Democrats. We're not liberal or conservatives. We're not Illinois residents or residents from other states. We're not U.S. citizens or foreigners. We're all one group of people trying to help each other, to get everyone to the end of that 26.2-mile journey safely.
It would be nice if the country could be like this every day. Put down the hate and pick up a cup of water or Gatorade. Put down the hate and cheer on a runner. Put down the hate and help someone you don't even know make it 26.2 miles to the finish.