Aside from what you have read on my posts about why I love to run, I failed to mention that a MAJOR reason why I run is to escape the madness of today’s world. Sure I can come home and turn on the TV and put something on but it will likely result in troubling news channels or controversial TV shows. There is too much conflict in the world today and I understans thay to many of you out there the root causes of those conflicts are important to you but for some people like me, it can be a bit much.
On Tuesday night I saw a post on Twitter that called my name and literally fell in my lap. I had a friend’s party to attend starting at 8pm in Manhattan but usually I finish work at 5pm. It’s easy to go to some bars and have a few drinks and pass the time. But the tweet I saw was calling my name.
The New York Road Runners club was holding a conversation with Dr Simran Jeet Singh to talk about diversity issues and how running can help unite the disconnects that exist. Better yet, this conversation was happening from 6:30pm – 7:30pm and two blocks from where I had to be at 8pm. Like I said, this literally fell into my lap!
Dr. Singh is currently a professor at NYU. He also is running the NYC Marathon next week. Being of the Sikh religion, Dr. Singh started the conversation describing to us how he has encountered many forms of discrimination as a child growing up in Texas especially right after 9/11. He recounted an incident during one of his brother’s birthday parties at a local skating rink. His family had obviously paid money to have the party there and upon arrival they would not let him and others enter the rink because they were wearing turbans, a proud symbol of their religion, and were asked to take them off if they intended to enter. The end result, the members of his party and others walked out of the rink and boycotted it..
Discrimination didn’t stop as a child. As an adult, Dr. Singh picked up running because he felt that running “empowered him in a world were people thought he was different”. However, discrimination would still present itself to Dr. Singh. He recalled during the first of 5 NYC Marathons that he has already run, that a young boy chased him early on in the race in Brooklyn while throwing things at him and calling him a terrorist. Imagine having to run with any type of fear? As if a marathon was not enough stress and to have to face this early on in the race as well?
That incident in the NYC Marathon wasn’t the only form of discrimination he would encounter while running the races he has run. He described a more recent race he ran where a volunteer working the water station refused to serve him water because according to them he was “a filthy muslim”. This incident caught some media attention and was covered in New York by WPIX.
In an effort to gain some good out of the negative experiences he encountered, he was inspired to start a running club for Sikhs in New York to raise awareness and to talk about these issues with other members of his community experiencing the same. The goal was to raise awareness of discrimination within the Sikh community but also to make these members feel empowered, just as he had felt, because in reality they are no different than the thousands of other people who run these races week in and week out.
That my friends is why running can be a great form of unity. I have always thought that running is a different sport than what we are used to. In all sports it’s a team of individuals trying to beat the other. While it’s true that in running, there is a winner that takes home the “first place” medal of trophy, 99.9 percent of runners are not seeking that first place award. I know aim not (lol)! They participate in the sport because of the personal challenge against themselves. So the notion of having to be better than someone is stripped away for most the minute we toe the starting line.
Dr. Singh made a very profound point as he wrapped up his conversation on Wednesday night. He made the point that running “humanizes us no matter what their background is”. This my friends is absolutely 100% true.
Recently prior to the Staten Island Half Marathon that I ran in September, I recall race director Peter Ciacia asking us all to unite because of all the hatred going on in the world. He said that even though we couldn’t fix all of the wrong in the world, we could start with one another. There is truth in this because each and every time I am in the starting corrals for a race, I look around and just look at the thousands of people standing there. All colors. All religions. All background. ZERO HATE. For the short term future whether it is 10 minutes, 2 hours or 8 hours, each and every person is focused on their task at hand- finishing that race. Further, more often than not, when a fellow runner goes down in a race and falls, there are usually several people that will put their game plan aside and stop and help that person back up to their feet. They don’t care the color of the person’s skin or anything else about them. The human spirit simply takes over.
As a hispanic male runner, I’ve come to the end of some long races and have seen the human spirit at work. Strangers cheering me and all of the other runners on, in all types of weather. Children sticking out their hands to get a “sweaty” high five from a stranger. Volunteers willingly handing out water and aide to anyone that needs it.
What Dr. Singh is trying to do in the running community, I hope can transcend into other parts of our society because sadly the world is just not a good place to be in at times. Thankfully for me, I have running to escape it all! I find it very inspiring also that I was able to hear this conversation as we are on the heels of the NYC Marathon occurring next weekend. 60,000 runners, so many of which will be here from other countries to run the race will take to the equally diverse streets of NYC. It can be argued that running has already united us all. Now only if we could work on the the rest of the world!
I personally would to thank Dr Singh for taking the time out of his busy schedule and his marathon training to talk to us Wednesday night. Follow him on twitter, @SikhProf . He claims to actually tweet when he runs races. I might have to try that one of these days!