Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day Fight Against Prostate Cancer 5M

That's Abe Weintraub. He is 98 years old. I was standing immediately to the left of this photo, one of the remaining participants in the Father's Day Fight Against Prostate Cancer 5M race who stayed around to watch the best thing in life.

I will start from the beginning.

It was another Father's Day weekend alone for me and I was determined to make the most of it. I spent Saturday hanging out at South Street Seaport, enjoying their raw bar on the NYC harbor. Way out on the horizon I could see the Verazzano Narrows Bridge connecting Staten Island with Brooklyn, and I imagined again what it will be like in November to run over that with 39,000 others. It rained off and on. I just took it all in. I had my backpack with me, I finished off a tilapia sandwich and Heinekens and then I headed uptown.

On Saturday night, I closed my favorite Starbucks at midnight, spending 4 hours working on letters for literary agents as I continue my pursuit of a bestselling book franchise. I watched the world go by around me.

I got up at 7:30 the next morning early and did same-day registration at Central Park for the 8:30 Father's Day race. It would start on the west side of the park at about 67th Street, and it would go clockwise around the park, excluding the hilly mile on the tip-top. Before the start, I stood in a line with other men to get a PSA test. That blood test was the best thing I did this weekend. I want to be 98 one day and still racing in marathons.

I tore the race up, for me. It was 173-trillion percent humidity. I was soaked just at the start line. I tried to conserve the first two miles so that I would have a strong kick at the end. I like to remember what experts have told me. NYRR director Mary Wittenberg once said at the start of my first-ever race, "Start easy, finish hard." And I remember what my Kenyan friend told me recently, "Train hard, race easy." Add it up and I just felt like I was going to be prepared for this. I pushed myself at times that I wanted to let up, and I finished in :49.45. It was two minutes off my time at this event last year, but factoring the humidity I was thrilled.

Then I listened to the live band and I won another raffle. That is where they huddle hundreds of runners at the awards ceremony and start calling off bib numbers and giving away prizes. I won a Scotland Run raffle last year. Now I won four passes to Playland in Rye, N.Y. Two years, two raffle wins. I am lucky. During that raffle, the emcee announced to everyone that a man named Abe Weintraub, 98, was out on the course and had just passed the 2-mile mark. Everyone gasped. It was hard to run today if you were in your 20s. So imagine being 98 years old, and traversing hilly Central Park in a running singlet, determined that you are going to get around to a finish line.

I stayed to watch that. But it was even better. First we had the kids races. I was watching 3-year-olds sprinting to the finish line -- the happiest sight of all. It was so pure. You know what I watched? THEIR FORM. I wanted to run exactly like 3- and 4-year-old kids were running. No one ever has told them to run some different way. Just stand back and watch them run. That is how we do it, people.

Then the bigger kids raced, up to 100 yards away, up to age 11 or 12. Most of the people had gone home by the end of that. But dozens still remained, and I was there with them. There was no way I was going to miss this. Then someone announced at the finish line that Abe was 10 minutes from finishing.

We waited. And then in the distance you could see the bright optic yellow race singlet of 98-year-old Abe Weintraub. He was accompanied by a few family members, including his son on Father's Day, and by one woman who was in tears, obviously a relative, maybe a granddaughter. Abe walked the whole way. He didn't need to run. That was the most wonderful thing. And then the NYRR officials did something beautiful. They brought out the finish tape that the winners break. Abe walked right through it, and we applauded as loudly as we could.

There were a lot of watery eyes. You didn't have to know Abe. I don't know him. They walked him over to one of those park benches where I took the photos of the plaques. Abe sat down. He was happy. He was smiling. I walked over by the area where he was sitting, and as I walked by, we exchanged looks and we each smiled at each other. I clapped and said, "Nice job, Abe." He waved.

I don't know if I'll ever see Abe again, but I know that I will never forget him.

I went home, and my boys called me on my blackberry. We talked for an hour or so. Ben was telling me about his back-to-back days of football practice. He is going to be a junior in high school, and right now he is playing first-string safety and wide receiver on the JV. I asked him what he likes best, and he said, "tackling." We talked about good tackling form -- I just want him to be careful and not tackle head-on. He is doing so great, so strong, so responsible. Josh is going to be a high school freshman, and he told me how he just poured in 30 points in a basketball scrimmage. He is trying out for the high school freshman basketball team, and he listened to Dad's advice on shooting his way out of a slump. "I did it Dad and it worked," he said. I think he will make it. Matt and Amanda were at the lake, and I was glad to hear that they were just chillin' -- a couple of Dean's List students who will be back on campus this fall and need some chill time now. Just think of how you have your whole career ahead of you, with so much responsibility, and how valuable it is to enjoy these moments now before the real world comes into play.

After that, I thought about myself, missing my boys and being without my Dad anymore, and I was feeling pretty sad for myself. I didn't feel like writing anything that day. But I think that in those moments you learn to just keep going forward, and you look for things that make you stronger. You appreciate an Abe Weintraub, finishing a race at age 98. You see homeless people begging you for money and you stop and appreciate how fortunate you are that you have shelter. Then you go to work, and an agent emails you and says he's not the right one for you but it looks like you're on to something. Then you go to sleep, you wake up, you wait for your PSA results, and you realize that you are living and even though it is not a perfect life, it is the one you have and you had better make the most of it.

Abe has.

UPDATE: I actually later found myself in video. WABC was the sponsor and had a live finish cam and you can see it on their website now. For me, it's in the :45-1:02 minute version. Good luck if you can find me, but I appear from about 6:50 to 7:09 on the timestamp. You can enlarge the video. I am on the right half of the screen, wearing a royal blue shirt and dark blue pants, blue hat. I pumped my fist as I crossed the finish line, with the gun clock showing I think 52:15, and the giveaway is when you see what looks like a white wristband on my right arm. Know what that is? It's the bandage they put on my arm after they took my blood for the PSA test. I forgot I even had it on throughout the race. The funny thing is, when I was at the raffle, I looked at my arm and wondered where it went. Then I realized watching this video that when I pumped my fist at the finish, it must have made it fall down to my wrist area and the bandage was just clinging there. Then it fell off. Ha.

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