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Darwin Awards

Don't Run Away From Safety

Published May 18, 1998, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Charles Darwin postulated that the effects of natural selection ensured the survival of the fittest. In his honor, the Darwin Awards commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice of killing themselves by the most extraordinarily stupid means, thereby improving the human gene pool.

The 1997 Darwin Awards winners included a sun bather who suffocated when a sandy 8-foot hole caved in as he relaxed inside it on a beach chair, a bungee jumper who forgot to measure the bungee and hit the pavement head first, and a scrap metal thief who was crushed by a 160-foot electric tower he was disassembling.

Although most runners stop short of the ultimate sacrifice, we hereby salute the spirit and innovation of their misadventures, as we put forth their actions in nomination for the Darwin Awards.

First, we salute all the nighttime runners who wear dark clothing. They run on dark, isolated, high traffic roads without shoulders, and try their best to escape detection by sleepy drivers. They believe that a driver that does not see them cannot hit them. Many nighttime vehicle-runner collisions go unreported, as the driver believes that the car collided with a deer.

Next, we envy the musically talented runners who wear headphones everywhere. With tens of decibels blasting into their ears, stiffening their auditory follicles and reducing their hearing, they run with their backs to traffic, drowning the noises of the road, lest they interfere with the music. Oblivious to cars around them, even more so to quieter bicycles and pedestrians, these runners give up any chance of a timely reaction to an emergency.

On hot summer days, we marvel at the sight of overweight runners dressed in rubber air-tight outfits. These mobile saunas can melt 10 pounds of sweat per hour, putting to shame the best hi-tech diets. Many runners have died from heart failure or heat stroke from losing too much water, and eventually decomposed to their ideal weight.

During the depth of winter, when days are short and roads are slippery, runners compete with snowplows for narrow roads, and pride themselves for not yielding the way. To avoid slipping on icy sidewalks, many challenge speeding cars with blocked windshields in the middle of the road.

Far from serious contention for any awards, some runners wear ankle weights when they run. By upsetting one's normal stride, ankle weights can cause a biomechanical imbalance, resulting in severe back and hip injuries. Wrist weights, back-packs and beer bellies do not provide any benefit, either.

Distance runners are known for ignoring signs of trouble. Many have started marathons with a stress fracture, and finished with a compound fracture and a tibia sticking out through their skin. A world renowned ultra-runner once completed a 56-mile race with a detached knee cap that required surgery in time for the Western States 100-miler.

Hurdlers bring us entertaining stories of a different kind. To enhance jumping ability, many hurdlers practice clearing steeplechase hurdles at full speed. Those 6-inch-thick, 300-pound wooden bars make formidable barriers when struck head on by a knee flying at 20 mph. Many knees have been reconfigured following such collisions.

Finally, our top choice for a Darwin Award nomination goes to all the parents who compete in road races pushing 6-week-old infants in baby strollers. They run at full speed in crowds of hundreds, and use the front wheel of the stroller to push competitors out of the way. Cracks and pot-holes on the road rock the baby into a deep sleep. Too small to fit in a helmet, the baby's head wobbles in every direction like a universal joint hanging to the neck, ready to snap upon impact, while the baby's hypothermic blue skin wrinkles in the wind.

Intellectuals though we may be, runners are infamous for irrational conduct in the holy name of fitness. We ignore reasonable guidelines and live dangerously. We throw into the wind the benefits of our healthy lifestyles when we run amok with basic safety concepts. So, let us practice some common sense for safety's sake, and leave the Darwin Awards to those who truly deserve them.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at

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