Hard to believe?
Seriously. The man who gave us T.S. Garp and the genie from “Aladdin,” Adrian Cronauer from “Good Morning, Vietnam” and Sean Maguire from “Good Will Hunting” was an athlete before he attended Julliard.
The young Robin Williams ran track and cross country at Redwood High in Larkspur, California, where he was part of a 4x400-meter relay team that held the school record for decades. His high school yearbook lists his personal best in the 800 meters at 1:58.8.
Which is ironic – he’s been quoted saying “I love running cross country … on the track I feel like a hamster.”
I’ve never seen a hamster run a sub-2 minute 800.
In 1984, he ran the Dipsea Race in California – one of the oldest cross country trail races in the country, getting its start in 1905. Williams placed 232nd out of 1,375 runners.
“Besides the hills, the stairs and the downhill, it wasn’t bad,” he told the local Marin County newspaper.
Williams said on several occasions that his favorite Olympic athletes were African distance runners. “You never have to drug test African distance runner,” he joked. “Are you on drugs? ‘No, I’m looking for food.’ ” He also joked that somewhere in Africa there was a chicken who could run a sub-2 hour marathon, trying to stay ahead of the Ethiopians.
And he famously joked about the high of running 26 miles and how all it cost you was a pair of shoes.
Sadly, it costs more to run a marathon these days. The price went up when the pressure cookers at the finish line of the Boston Marathon went off.
Patriot’s Day in Boston has been on my list of sporting events to experience for as long as I can remember, and it’s even higher today. For starters, it’s one of my favorite cities (I’ve been a Red Sox fan since I first learned to pronounce Yastrzemski, Conigliaro and Petrocelli).
I know how easily you can walk from the Old North Church to the graves of Paul Revere, Sam Adams and John Hancock, to Boston Common and on to the birthplace of the Parker House roll and the Boston Cream Pie and never lose sight of a Dunkin’ Donuts. I’ve done it the hard way: without stopping for a cruller. I’ve walked the banks of the Charles River, stood atop Fenway Park’s Green Monster and soaked up sunshine in Harvard Yard.
It’s a city with a long list of sports heroes. From Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Gerry Cheevers to Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and John Havlicek, from Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio to Doug Flutie and the most famous Hail Mary pass in Boston College history.
Monday added another name to the long, long list: former ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis.
Haslet-Davis, 34, was a bystander on April 15, 2013. She was stunned by the first explosion near the finish line and knocked to the ground by the second, which took her left foot and much of her ankle. She ended up having her leg amputated below the knee.
A dancer, she had to relearn how to walk. But from the beginning, she promised herself she would dance again.
While in the hospital, she met Hugh Herr, the MIT Media Lab director and himself a double amputee. After meeting her, Herr promised to build her a bionic left food and ankle.
Just 200 days later, Haslet-Davis walked on a stage at a dance contest to compete in the rumba on that bionic appendage. And she performed elegantly – you can see her dancing online – and she was awarded a blue ribbon for her performance.
Wearing a carbon-fiber blade, she trained for six months to run Monday’s marathon.
For a tough place like Bean Town, there were lots of tears on display when she ran down Boylston Street toward the finish line.
People run for a great many reasons. It’s a major challenge to push yourself to run 26 miles, and people like me will never understand the reward that comes from crossing the finish line.
To do so just three years after, and on the same spot where, your life changed forever takes a special kind of courage.
And it’s a special kind of inspiration.
Correspondent Steve Christilaw can be reached at steve.christilaw@ gmail.com.
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