This is the 4th year that Atmavir has found himself celebrating his birthday at the 3100 mile race. For him it is birthday number 32, and though most of us could scarce think of doing what he is doing on such a day, it is safe to say he would rather be no other place than where he is right now.
There is certainly no gift that we can offer to him that would be adequate to match the courage and sacrifice that he has offered here over 4 long summers. This year the way has been extraordinarily difficult for this young man, who is actually the youngest of all who run here. If there was one gift that I am certain he would love to receive and that is a smooth swift run into the finish line, which is still 655 miles away.
“I will enjoy today. Yesterday I was fighting like anything.” The past few weeks have been in many ways a roller coaster ride for Atmavir. One of the most talented runners on the block he has had periods when he has been able to turn on the jets and just fly. On others, when he has felt the sun steal his strength he has been reduced to walking and trying to ponder the lesson of this frustrating experience.
His birthday came early for him. He said he leaves his cell phone on when he rests and through the night text messages were coming through from friends and family back in the Czech republic. He is wearing a green party hat as we run and the friendly greetings continue as passers by spontaneously offer best wishes. One even came from a garbage collector just across the street.
He is quite serious about his determination in running hard yesterday. He says he made an oath that he would run 60 miles or die trying. The fact that he is still around today is a testament to his gutsy effort. He ended the day with more than 61. He tells me that he put more energy into yesterday than he had in the previous 34 days. “I put tremendous energy yesterday. I put everything.”
He says that he started his day by going to the Aspiration Ground which is close by before coming here. “I was really grateful for that. It is a golden opportunity that I have a chance to go to the Aspiration ground on my birthday. For that I am really grateful. I am really happy that I can celebrate my birthday here, among these great people.”
Alakananda has been the party coordinator for quite a few years now and is quite comfortable in applying her hands and lips to the job. She will have to repeat this same performance tomorrow for Galya who will turn 39. Dharbhasana is trying all kinds of unique therapies to cure his hamstring problem. The past few days have been particularly tough on this extraordinary New Zealand runner.
His daughter Shakti is trying to use a little art therapy to encourage her Dad and everyone else.
Start Day 38
No one rushes forward from the line. Instead all his fellow runners honor Atmavir this morning and walk slowly beside him. They sing the Birthday song and best wishes are offered.
It will take the group some time to make it till the end of the block and then ever so gradually they will all, once again, be alone on the course. Continuing to follow their heart’s dream. Finding something new around each corner, that they have passed so many thousands of times before.
“Now every day is sunny Jamaica.” Baladev is reminding me about a short skit he was in before the race started. It was about holidaying in Jamaica. But enjoying the sun does not rank high on any of the runner’s lists this year. “Not a holiday,” he says.
His legs are simply tired he says. “This year no injury. Every day a little pain. Now my energy is good.”
When Pradhan the chiropractor was here the previous week he helped him a lot. Before he came he said, “I was simply dead every day.” He told him physically that he was okay but that he simply needed more sleep.
When he was told this he left the course at 10 that night and slept for 6 hours. The following day he was then able to run 59miles. After this however his miles gradually decreased each day.
He believes it is the continuous heat and humidity that is making it difficult for him to recover. “It is too much for my body.” He also describes how much he drank yesterday and how he still seemed to be dehydrated. He still managed to run most of the day and only had to walk for the last 2 hours. In this way he managed to complete 53 miles.
He feels that despite his lack of success in making big mileage each day he feels that inwardly he is making progress.
“Every day I do 100%.” He says that not only he is giving 100 percent but also that everyone else here is doing the same. He says that people who don’t understand the race may have the misconception when they just see the runners walking that they are taking it easy. He says that nothing is further from the truth. We always need to keep in perspective just how difficult and long their days are. Walking at times may be all that they have to give. It is still their best possible effort at that moment.
“It is not easy to be happy, but this is the thing I am thinking about every day. Trying to be happy.”
for those who sing
Poem of the Day
by Sri Chinmoy
July 20th 2007
At that point the pain was so excruciating that even walking was impossible. For this champion, who has for 6 years managed to find solutions for all and every obstacle that has blocked his path this one proved insurmountable. Yet now 2 weeks later he still comes to the race to encourage others and find peace with an experience that has proven to be the toughest that he has ever had to endure.
“After 3 days it became clear that I cannot continue the race because I cannot move. That is what happened on the outer plain. I stopped after 1,386 miles.” This kind of event he says is the first ever in all the years he has been running.
“Actually everything starts with the mind. Once I read that every injury and every illness first comes to the mind. Somehow you allow it to enter into you, or you accept it. Then it manifests itself in the physical. So maybe what I can do is use much more determination to not allow this to happen again. It did not happen all at once. It started over many days. I just didn’t fight this pain as maybe I could.”
“Right now I am speaking easily about these things. I was in agony. My first lap on the 24th day was terrible.(his last day) Actually you never know what will happen. This is the mystery of the race. The Supreme is planning everything for you. Not you planning. You can have wishful thinking but the actual experience is coming from above. So you never know. To me this is very precious. It is a great school to just to be able to accept everything that comes. And to challenge everything that is preventing you from running, from moving forward.”
“Yesterday I read an excellent aphorism. Even if you don’t see any improvement in your Spiritual life. You have to stay extremely happy. (written by Sri Chinmoy) Extreme happiness is the key. I know that, and I try to be positive all this time, when this injury happened to me. But of course it is very hard. When you cannot move and you are in agony. Literally tears in your eyes. It is hard to be positive. But it is your attitude that determines your way of acting. So I accepted it. But I am still decrypting the message of this experience. What the Supreme gave me.”
“I can say that I am now happy, that I am not sad. I am not depressed that I cannot continue. It happened. Life is life. What can you do? Next year I will probably perform on a different level. Who knows? There is a next year definitely. For me there is no doubt.”
“To me it was a big struggle just to end this year peacefully. I wanted to come back, after 3 days, after 4 days, after 5 days, after a week. Then I said to myself, look, you cannot walk. Definitely I will be here next year, of course. I am not an old man. Still there are a lot of attempts left in me, to accept the challenge of this race, and I love it.”
Song composed by Sri Chinmoy
Performed by Enthusiasm Awakeners
Today you can smile.
You are smiling today,
Tomorrow you, and nobody else,
Shall bring down
The Kingdom of Heaven
For God to enjoy His earth-rest
And man to enjoy his life-nourishing
Excerpt from Europe-Blossoms by Sri Chinmoy