Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Journey of 1000 Miles Begins

I ran a little bit in High School, so the first run I did in the summer of 1991 wasn’t my FIRST run, but it was my first run after six years of smoking a variety of cigarette brands and drinking all the beer in New York City on a regular basis.

For a few weeks prior to that initial run I would exercise by hitting a tennis ball against a wall in a park across the street from my house for 45 minutes, every day. I needed to get my body re-accustomed to the concept of “movement” before I embarked on something as physically demanding as a run. At 230 pounds I was also unsure whether my heart, lungs, or legs would be able to muster up anything more than minimal participation in anything aerobic. The tennis ball thing got old pretty fast, (plus I was competing with some pretty aggressive Bronx residents for the handball court), so one humid evening I put on a pair of old New Balance sneakers and set forth into the great unknown. At the time I had no inkling that the first step from my grimy stoop onto East 189th Street would be the beginning of a life-long love affair with running.

The residents of the Italian Arthur Avenue section of the Bronx, where I lived in the 1980s and early 1990s, were not known for their tolerance. Their general response to seeing an unfamiliar thing in “their” neighborhood was to chase it down with baseball bats and bludgeon it to death. This was most likely a function of the neighborhood being a lonely island of relative calm among a sea of warring crack gangs, so they tended to guard their borders with vigor. Mindful of this attitude, it was with some trepidation that I set off down the street. I headed in the general direction of Webster Avenue, but I didn’t want to go too far, lest I have to beat a retreat more hasty than my body was capable of. I made it around two City blocks once, before panting to a halt. In those two blocks I was subjected to an impressive variety of insults, mostly centering around the size of my fat ass. Not only the Italians, but the blacks and Hispanics all weighed in from their respective stoops. It was probably the first time in a long while that the disparate ethnic groups in the area found common ground about something. I didn’t care though. I had set a goal, and achieved it. The next day I would add a block, and then another the day after that. Inside of two months I was dropping weight effortlessly and was increasing my mileage. For the first time in five years, I felt like a human being again.

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