I met Charles last year at one of the Saturday meet-ups for Achilles. The wind chill brought the temperature below zero, and a light dusting of snow would show its face as we took our first morning strides. For those unfamiliar with Achilles’ workouts, they begin with a pairing process dependent on how far and fast an athlete wishes to go that morning. An achilles leader will call out, “6 miles at a 10 minute pace”, and then a guide will introduce themselves to the athlete and both will enjoy a workout.
I remember Charles requested a speed workout that particular morning. Out of sheer curiosity, I went over to ask about what exactly he wanted to do. He wanted to run a mile loop around the northeast side of the park at a 7:30 pace while accelerating up the Harlem Hill at a 7:00 minute pace. Most Manhattanite runners have a love/hate relationship with Harlem Hill. It’s a steep, bendy climb where excuses are made, and runs can slow to a walk while white flags are waved. You survive the hill, you don’t dare sprint up the hill. With a smile, I told him that sounded terrible. With a smile, he told me he wanted to do that four times.
Charles handed me his tether, and upon first glance I noticed cartoon characters. My curiosity took a backseat to the energy we expelled during our first of four ascensions up the hill. After the second loop, we were old war buddies, and I decided to ask Charles about his tether. I said, “Charles do you realize your tether has Thomas the Train on it?” As a native Frenchman, he told me he was unfamiliar with the reference. He then asked if Thomas had a particular slogan or catch phrase. My brain could not process the coincidence of what I was about to tell Charles. Barely finding the right words, I explained Thomas the Train and his little engines was used In America to teach kids how to encounter challenges. Thomas, as a locomotive, would encounter a hill and will himself to make it to the top by saying, “I think I can! I think I can!” We both ran in silence during the next quarter mile. When we started our third climb up the hill, Charles shouted, “I think I can! I think I can!” It was one of those moments you never forget.
That was almost 6 months ago. Charles and I run together on a fairly regular basis, and Charles is also there during my solo runs each morning. Whenever I realize a hill is coming up, I accelerate. In life and in Central Park. I never asked Charles how he lost his vision. Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you handle it. Both Charles and I sprint up hills for different reasons, and a friendship has been created because we do it together.
I’m going to buy a Thomas the Train book for my daughter. My wife is due in 5 days, and I’m excited for her to grow up around the strong people I meet at my running group.
Thank you, Charles, and thank you, Achilles, for a life’s worth of motivation.