Linda Robertson

Linda Robertson: Inspirational stories part of the success of Miami Marathon

Cool morning: Temperatures were in the 50s for the start of the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday.
Cool morning: Temperatures were in the 50s for the start of the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday.

If Phidippides, the unwitting inventor of the marathon, had run in conditions like those on Sunday for the 13th Miami Marathon and Half Marathon, he would not have collapsed and died after finishing. He could have turned around and run the first ultra marathon.

It was a nearly ideal breezy, 53-degree morning for a race that crosses its fingers that it won’t be too hot and humid. About 20,000 participants took a 13.1-mile tour of Miami and Miami Beach or a 26.2-mile journey that included Coconut Grove. They did it under their own power. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we abandoned our cars more often?

The beauty blunted the pain. So did the camaraderie. So did inspirational stories unfolding each step of the way.

To cross the finish line brings instant perspective: Anything is possible with a little will and adequate water. Ask those who were smiling, crying, whooping, fist-pumping and kissing — either the ground, running partner or Burnie, the Miami Heat mascot.

The sights, sounds and smells along the course enabled runners to suppress complaints from their bodies — at least until after passing the screaming throng along Northeast 15th Street at Mile 11.

Cruise ships along the MacArthur Causeway. Creamsicle clouds above Ocean Drive. Choppy seas between the Venetian isles.

Spectators — bless them — who awoke at dawn and made signs: “Chafing the dream!” “Go complete stranger!” “I’m more proud of you than Kanye West is of himself!”

Cowbells, heavy breathing and conversation snippets in multiple languages: Somebody asked Darren “Doctor Dribble” Weissman if he had “checked the inflation” of his basketballs before dribbling them 13.1 miles. Another person advised: “Entering South Beach, capital of Lamborghinis and bikinis.”

The aroma of breakfast emanating from streetside cafes, prompting the runners’ version of Robert Frost: Pancakes are lovely, plump and sweet. But I have time goals to meet. And miles to go before I eat. And miles to go before I eat.

The 400 runners from Team Lifeline, which supports children with life-threatening diseases, got the loudest cheers. Lori Finkelstein pushed 15-year-old daughter Peri in a wheelchair through the half marathon. Peri has muscular dystrophy. She was accompanied by her parents, sister, brother, friend, cousin, physical therapist and two camp counselors. Team Peri has raised $100,000 in six races.

“Team Lifeline has helped us since she was born and she wanted to give back,” Lori said. “They make these kids feel like normal kids again.”

Cristina Gomez’s family wanted to finish what she started. She registered to run the Miami event nine months ago and was training May 12 in Kendall when she fell off a bridge and hit her head. She was in a coma for six weeks and still requires round-the-clock care. Her father, aunt, brother and friend ran the half marathon and pushed Cristina in her wheelchair for the last 150 meters.

“She was out there with me in spirit, but I missed her because we planned to do this together,” said friend Stephanie Razuri, 23, who was Gomez’s classmate at Varela High and FIU.

Adder Gomez is thankful his daughter is alive and showing signs of improvement.

“She understands what we accomplished,” he said. “She can’t communicate but we know she will soon.”

Nichole Rider and identical twin Jennifer — known as the Rider twins when they were sports stars during their youth and college years in Wyoming — completed their first half marathon in 2:06. They were reunited in a competition for the first time in 20 years, since Nichole was paralyzed in an auto accident. Jennifer and friend Janeen Jones flew in from Wyoming to push Nichole, who moved to Delray Beach, in a jogging chair on behalf of the ThumbsUp foundation.

After training at an altitude of 7,200 feet on hilly roads in 20-degree temperatures, Nichole’s escorts ran faster than they expected.

“We alternated and the person not pushing set the pace,” said Jennifer, 41.

Said Nichole: “The synergy between them was amazing. It was almost like the old days for us, except I was just offering encouragement. The competitor in me wants to do this next year riding my handcycle.”

Jones said the twins seemed to pick up right where they left off: “Caring for each other, joking with each other — you saw the power of sisterly love.”

There’s also a bond between runners and pacers such as Kristen Tinker, Dave Masterson and Helen McKenzie, who help runners stick to their planned mile splits. They run carrying signs with projected finishing times.

Tinker provided nonstop motivational talk, standup comedy and songs for four hours (9:10 per mile).

“We made up some lyrics to Def Leppard and Van Halen — anything crazy to keep people going,” said Tinker, who has a marathon best of 3:23. She started with a group of 30, parted by blowing kisses to a bunch at the half marathon finish and a few more who couldn’t keep up at 20 miles. “This is more fun than racing.”

After 26.2 miles, she posed for photos with her thankful flock. It was time for hugs. And pancakes.

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