The drive to run on Broad
Covering 10 miles, at many speeds, for countless reasons.
You think they just run? One foot in front of the other - meaningless, boring, monotonous? Hah!
The annual Blue Cross Broad Street Run is a declaration of independence, an act of revolution for so many.
They have lifted themselves off the couch and collectively shed many thousands of pounds. They have overcome incredible cancers and other ailments.
For many, the bolt down Broad becomes a magical means to convert pain into something positive, a way to honor the dead and raise millions of dollars in their memories for the best of causes.
And for others, the Broad Street Run, now in its 33d year and the largest 10-miler in America, has become an old friend, truly a rite of spring.
"It's been my recovery run — mentally, physically, and emotionally — whatever the corresponding injury may be," said Jennifer Cranston McEntee, 31, a Philadelphia lawyer. "I've returned to it post-cancer, post-stress fracture, and post-crisis. It is the force my running life gravitates around."
As 40,000 people on Sunday race, run, jog, walk, or limp down Broad Street, aspirations will be high.
"Broad Street is the coming-out party for my new healthy life," said Gregory Urbanchuk, 37, of Philadelphia, who dropped from 277 to 160 pounds in the last two years, and runs the race Sunday for the first time.
So many of these runners have regained control of their lives, and it was the Broad Street Run that motivated them and that will offer its own reward when they cross the finish line.
"I'm doing the Broad Street Run for the girl who could barely make it through the mandatory mile run in high school," said Jessica Lawlor, 24, of Cheltenham, a first-timer. "I'm doing the Broad Street Run for the girl who used to cry in clothing-store fitting rooms, unhappy with what she saw in the mirror. But most importantly, I'm doing the Broad Street Run because, now, I can."
She saw the finish of the race last year from her car on I-95. She resolved to lose weight, to run. "I've overcome and accomplished so much," she said. "I'm doing this run for the incredible sense of pride and accomplishment I know I'll feel when I cross that finish line."
For so many, the run is the culmination, but the real joy, and discovery, was in getting there.
"My wife suggested that I run Broad Street with my 11-year-old son, David," said Derek Ritchie, vice president for development at Eastern University. "Not only did I question my ability to run 10 miles, but my son — no way!
"What started as a running race has turned into a passion that my boy and I really enjoy. We train, we race, we connect," Ritchie said. "Never did I think that my relationship with my son would be changed forever because of the Broad Street Run."
They show up for the most unselfish reasons. A few:
More than 30 people from Chestnut Hill College run to honor a beloved professor, Stephen Berk, who died from pancreatic cancer, and to raise money in his name for a scholarship.
Family and friends of Kevin Kless, 23, beaten to death in Center City, run to raise money for the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia. Besides "honoring him, we want to work to create change and end the string of senseless violence in Philadelphia," said friend Maria Hergan.
Molly and Nathan Unger, 8 and 9, of Downingtown, run to raise $2,500 for defibrillators for schools. They wanted to put their grief to good use after a friend, age 7, died of sudden cardiac arrest.
The stories are so poignant, so bittersweet.
Remco Jensen came to Philly from the Netherlands last year to have his daughter treated at Shriners Hospital. She suffered from a rare muscle disease and couldn't walk. Shriners was the only place in the world that had developed the operations and therapies to help her, he said.
After a grueling year, "with braces on her legs to support her, she can now not only stand straight, but also walk. This is a result we dared not hope we would achieve even at the end of the whole process, and we have only started the recovery a few weeks ago."
So he will run by the hospital, and wave to the people there who made it possible.
When Astrid Marin, 26, of Philadelphia, got word that her father was dying in a New York hospital, she left work in North Wales but hit bad traffic and arrived too late to say goodbye. The day haunts her.
In her mind, the Broad Street Run is a chance to replay that scene, but change the ending. "I tell myself this time a traffic jam will not stop me from reaching the finish line," she says. Her ankles swell and "sometimes I feel like an 80-year-old lady." But she never quits.
"The important thing to me is to reach the finish line just to show my dad that I am here and I made it for him."
Joan Kelley's father, John, ran many times; he died in 1996. He would often run home to West Philadelphia after the run, which always astonished Joan, and one time, running through the Italian Market, somebody tossed him an orange.
"It was his Rocky moment," said his daughter, 53, of Media. "I can still hear him humming the theme song and see his spirit shining in his eyes. Sunday, I will run my first Broad Street and I know Pop will be with me."
Runners see themselves as part of the legacy of Broad Street, the avenue of parades and champions. Douglas Funk, 33, of Harrisburg, has lost 100 pounds — "come back from the bottom of a bag of chips," as he likes to say — and he views his first Broad Street Run as "an honor to be on the same route Philadelphia greats such as Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Dr. J., Moses Malone, Mike Schmidt, Tug McGraw, Jamie Moyer, and Chase Utley have traveled in triumph."
And finally, for many runners, the Broad Street Run is an unbeatable tour through the city they love, and literally a run down memory lane.
"From the ladies heading to church in North Philly, the Temple University students that went to bed only a few hours before, the power brokers that watch from outside the Union League, the Mummers strutting away near Washington, all the way down to the servicemen and women that put medals around our necks at the finish — they all have a part in the success of my run," said Erin Burke, 34, of Phoenixville.
"It's only fitting that I complete a run that encompasses my life story," said Michaelangelo Ilagan, a first timer who is running with his girlfriend. He was born near the starting line, baptized a mile down the road. He went to the Art Institute, just off Broad Street, and now lives in South Philly, also just off Broad.
"I have lived the majority of my life going up and down this arterial road," he said. "The feat of this run would be a metaphorical accomplishment for me, and another milestone of my life on Broad."
Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michaelvitez. Check out his new book, The Road Back, on a Broad Street runner at www.michaelvitez.com.