Further Review: From the sporting world to the real world
Column by Ken Cohen
April 19, 2013 Almost immediately, as I saw already-exhausted runners knocked off their feet just yards from the Boston Marathon finish line by a gutless bomb blast, I was taken back to September 11, 2001. I couldn’t help but recall that horrific day because I was participating in a sporting event like the Marathon runners.
I was playing in the U.S. Mid-Amateur golf championship qualifier at Bedford Country Club in upper Westchester County. I was one of the early groups that day and was playing pretty well heading into the ninth hole. That’s when someone came out on the course and told me and my playing companion (his name was also Ken and he happened to be a NYC fire captain) that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. There was no more information at that point and we played on.
A few holes later, word swirled through the course that a second plane hit the other tower and that the United States had essentially been attacked. We were not sure what to do, especially the fire captain. He was also playing well to that point and now was completely shaken. He felt like he needed to get off the course and tend to his job. But when one of his buddies in the fire department who was scheduled to tee off later told him there was no way into the city and that he might as well finish his round, we played in.
It was certainly difficult to play the last few holes, but we did what competitors do: fight on. We both ended up with very respectable scores -- I was 2-over and he was 3-over. Given the tough course conditions, I thought that my score (and his) had a chance to qualify. Though I was certainly consumed and concerned about what had happened (I didn’t know many of the details at the time), I was excited about my chances of making a national tournament for the first time. As the next few groups finished, I was the low score at 74 and looking very good to qualify.
That’s when I went inside the clubhouse and started watching television. What I saw was beyond anything imaginable. Within a few minutes, the tournament director cancelled the qualifier there were contestants who would not be able to get to the course and others who had family members, friends and co-workers in the towers. All the scores were wiped out.
My emotions were all over the lot. As a competitor in a golf tournament with my blinders on and oblivious to anything happening in the outside world, I was very disappointed. My best shot to qualify for a national championship vanished just like that. I had felt the pressure of trying to finish the round knowing I was right there and handled it, making three solid pars on the last three holes. Any golfer will tell you there is no better feeling than hitting good shots under the heat and finishing strong. I had those positive, proud feelings while I was signing my scorecard.
Off the course and out of my competitor’s realm, to see the actual attack on television, the devastation, the helpless people jumping 80 floors to their death just sunk my heart to depths it hadn’t been since my father died nine years before that. It was gut-wrenching to say the least and created a clash of emotions inside my body. Long-awaited elation derived through executing my athletic skills and competitive instincts was pierced in an instance by something completely out of my control.
I can only imagine that many of the runners and participants in the Monday’s Marathon experienced similar waves of emotions. For so many, finishing one marathon is a lifetime achievement which usually results in substantial celebrations afterwards. But many on Monday didn’t get a chance to finish and those that did quickly went from euphoria to heartbreak. God bless those who continued their run by running to help victims.
I can’t get past the eerie juxtaposition of what happened in Boston. Running or participating in a marathon is one of the more courageous sporting endeavors imaginable. Grinding out 26 miles takes incredible inner fortitude, perseverance and desire beyond any other sporting event. I always look up to anyone who participates in a marathon they represent everything that I admire in an athlete, mostly will. And then in a couple of seconds, some cowardly miscreant tried to blow everything up. My gut tells me these runners will be back and stronger than ever next year. They will fight on.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.