Holt finds hope – and charity – in New York City

From Oliver Holt, Daily Mirror
There was one moment last week when I took dedication to marathon training too far. I stepped into a famous boxing bar on West 44th Street called Jimmy’s Corner where some of the scenes for Raging Bull were shot.

It is not known for moderation amongst its drinkers. I asked for a glass of water. It didn’t go down well.

I admit it: maybe I’m misty-eyed about it because I ran in the New York Marathon last weekend.

Apart from playing on the losing side in the Macclesfield and District Sunday League second division cup final at Congleton Town 25 years ago, it’s the closest I’ll get to a form of sporting achievement. But when I was running through the crowds in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx, I finally got it.

I finally understood why more than 39,000 people wanted to put themselves through varying degrees of pain for more than 26 miles.

Sure, it felt good to raise some money for the Geoff Thomas Foundation. The former Crystal Palace player, who has battled leukaemia, was not a remarkable footballer but he is a remarkable man.

And sure, it felt good to overcome what in my sheltered life counts for a bit of physical discomfort. It felt good to keep on going to the finish line.

But that was a minor part of it. Because to run on Sunday was also to be a witness to a startling act of random mass generosity.

That was what was affirming about being part of the marathon: to see man’s humanity to man.

To see strangers willing on strangers. To see a thousand small acts of kindness from the start to the end.

From the residents who spilled out on to Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn holding out paper tissues for the runners to mop their brows or blow their noses.

From the man who stood on Fifth Avenue, at the foot of the last long climb, holding a placard that said “Pain is Temporary, Pride is 4Ever”.

And from the spectators I saw kneeling by a runner who had collapsed in the gutter on the edge of Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem a few miles from the finish, trying to comfort him in his distress.

“Don’t try to get up, sir,” they were saying to him as I passed, one spectator cradling him in her arms. “Help is coming.” These acts of kindness, this cheering, this encouragement, happened everywhere.

Not just in the affluent Upper West Side or from among the bars on First Avenue or in deprived Bedford-Stuyvesant. But everywhere. For a few hours, and I hope longer, it stripped away cynicism and negativity and the feeling nobody does anything for nothing and that someone’s always trying to play you.

It stripped away some of the curses of modern life and the suspicions that segregate us and admitted runners and spectators alike to a world where sport is at its best, bringing people together, not dividing them.

When I got back to my hotel room, I pored over the results and the splits that show every runner’s time every 5km.

Now and again, a competitor’s time fell off a cliff as if they had suffered some physical catastrophe.

But instead of giving up, those people kept on going.

More than 400 people took over seven hours to finish.

You don’t even get a medal if it takes you more than six hours.

But they kept going, too.

Maybe the medal wasn’t what mattered to them. Maybe seeing the faces in the crowd mattered more.

Oliver Holt completed his first marathon in 4hr 13min 46sec.

Copy and picture of Oliver Holt finishing courtesy the Daily Mirror and Oliver Holt.

To contribute to Ollie’s fund-raising effort, click here and follow the links

Join the SJA today – click here for details and membership application form