Beirut Marathon #peacerunners: Denise

What is it that makes a runner? Is it the training, and the physical conditioning? Surely that plays a big part. Or, Is it the individual differences, and genetics? This no one can deny, either; some were just born to run, like the Kalenji tribe. All this makes a runner able to run a long distance. What makes a runner, once all has been said and done, is his Will to finish the race. To reach that finish line, no matter what, and that takes more than training; it takes a bit of madness and a whole lot of stubbornness.

Some fifteen ago, Denise hadn’t done sports for a very long time; not since an unfortunate accident left her with only one of her eyes. It took a lifetime to muster up the courage to run again. Denise had been a loving wife, and a caring mother to three boys who are now grown up. But then, one day she meets a coach who doesn’t take no for an answer and doesn’t give up on her. We cannot truly change, unless someone comes into our life, and shows us another way. And so, Denise takes up all kinds of sports. Then one day she decides to run a marathon. «You will never finish it!» her husband says to her; no doubt out of good intentions, wanting maybe to spare her the disappointment of having to quit in mid race. In retrospect, he should never have said that.

Many people drop out 10 kilometers before the end. Denise saw that in every marathon she ran, and she still recalls how unbearably painful that first marathon in Beirut was. Her husband was indeed worried she might not finish, as he expected. Most runners her age category have been coming in for some time now, but there was still no sign of her. He goes up the track looking for her. After one kilometer he catches up with her. She can barely walk. She’s limping on one leg. «What did I tell you? Let me take you home now.» Denise looks at him and says: «You just go back where you came from, darling! I’ll see you on the other side of the finish line.» A few years later, and several international marathons down the road, Denise comes in first of her age category, at the 2012 Beirut Marathon. I took that photo of her as she was in her final kilometer of this year’s Women’s Race. And I do wager she’ll also be crossing that finish line in Martyr’s Square, come November 8 well. Denise has what it takes to be a runner.

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