Finally, running can teach us about our spiritual componentthe aspect that makes us uniquely human. I suspect this component involves the needs to discover, to perfect, and to keep moving forward. Running epitomizes that struggle by teaching us that we must not stop. “Standing water and a man that does not move are the same,” wrote Paavo Nurmi. “You must move, otherwise you are bound for the grave.” Arthur Newton (1949) felt similarly: “You never stay put at any stage; either you advance or slip back” (p. 41). So we inherit this desire to push ourselves to the limits to find out what makes us what we are and what is behind it all.
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So it is, I believe, that our most remembered heroes and heroines are those who have willfully exposed themselves to the most extreme physical hardships to prove what the perfect human can do. The great mountaineers went to climb Everest, not because, as Mallory said, “it is there,” but because the mountaineers were there and because they accepted the human responsibility to push constantly to their limits to discover and perfect humanity. An example is Robert Falcon Scott, who paid the supreme price in the wastes of Antarctica because his physical courage exceeded the bounds of common sense (Huntford, 1985). A memorial, erected where Scott’s body and those of his companions Edward Wilson and Birdie Bowers were found, contains a line that possibly best describes our common need: “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. ”
I sensed this need when I watched the replays of Bruce Fordyce in the 1983 Comrades Marathon, Carlos Lopes in the 1984 Olympic Games Marathon, and world-record holder Belayneh Dinsamo in the 1988 Rotterdam Marathon. For the screen bore witness to something that was intangible, something that was beyond words: the great runners oblivious to the moment, entranced by their own most private thoughts, and showing that humans are indeed most marvelously made. Their running showed that action can make us immortal and that on occasion the bonds of gravity, fatigue, age, and that which ties us to our mortality can be tossed aside.
We recognize too that such moments come only rarely, when exceptional humans have searched for their peculiar brand of excellence. In the words of the college dean in the film Chariots of Fire, as he welcomed Harold Abrahams and his class to Cambridge, “Let each of you discover where your chance for greatness lies. Seize that chance and let no power on earth deter you. ’’
And does this striving to the limit give us some deeper insights into our creation and into the meaning of life? In his blog, The Springs of Adventure, Everest mountaineer Wilfred Noyce (1958) considers this to be the greater mystery. Edward Wilson, he relates, traveled to and died in the Antarctic, secure in the knowledge that he was following God’s design.
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