Yes, she is an American.
Yes, she won the most iconic American marathon (arguably the most iconic marathon worldwide).
Yes, she won after years of tenacious, hard-fought pursuit with so many close finishes.
Yes, she exudes humility, grit, and graciousness in bunches.
But that is not why Desi’s win in yesterday’s Boston marathon is reasonating so meaningfully, with so many. At least, it’s not why it is for me. It’s not even the amazing selflessness displayed on the course as she sought to aid fellow elite Shalane Flanagan when the race seemed lost for her. For me, Desi’s win represents a win for us. For the dogged, mile-pounding, weary-legged masses.
In yesterday’s race, under the brutal conditions of a historic Northeast spring storm there was an equally historic deluge of elite athlete DNF’s. This is not a criticism of those athletes. I certainly understand that when running is your livelihood sometimes pragmatic decisions must be made. Sometimes you must walk away to fight another day (to borrow the cliche). And sometimes, there are legitimate health and wellness circumstances that force you to abandon the race. Desi herself mentioned the feeling early on in the race that she may find herself in that unfavorable situation. For the elite marathoners of the world, this is a part of life and the business of running.
For the rest of us, it’s not.
This is why Desi’s win, under those conditions, feels like a win for us. For those of us who balance the full-time jobs with full-time training. For those of us who sleep restlessly after a hard session without altitude tents or compression boots. Desi’s win feels like a win for those of us who put all our eggs in one basket and show up on race day to find that basket floating down the streets of Hopkinton in two-inches of standing water or frying under an unrelenting sun.
When I ran my first Boston in 2012, the BAA offered the only guaranteed deferment in its history due to the record heat we would face on race day. I remember being at the race expo when the announcement was made and turning to my wife who had been concerned about the conditions for days leading up to the race. Without asking, she knew my answer. Deferment was not an option. We had taken time from our family and work to travel to the race. Hotels had been booked. Months had been sacrificed. Regardless of the conditions, the race was on. Despite the crippling heat, not finishing was not an option. For 26.2 miles, I baked on the streets of the Boston Marathon, reduced to an agonizing amble at times, and crossed the finish line in my slowest marathon ever. I staggered. I suffered. I survived.
For most of us, even those who obtain the enviable BQ, even those who routinely win their local road races and compete at regional championships, there is little we can relate to in the running lives of the truly elite. But in Desi’s performance yesterday, there appeared the best of our shared experience. Under the torrents and blistered by the gales, Desi staggered. Desi suffered. Desi survived. And then Desi celebrated. And with her, we all celebrate.
Thank you Desi, for representing the best of what the rest hope to be.