Syracuse Online


Dr. J. on Running

Ali, Spelled A-L-I

From the Mouths of Babes

Published July 12, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

It was the largest crowd to gather this season for a trail run. We started on the park road and quickly settled into a single file through the woods. The lead runners treaded on their toes chasing faster times. The back of pack engaged in a cheerful conversation. I ran in the middle pack with a quiet group of scholastic runners, including a young first-timer.

"What is your name?" I asked. "Ali, spelled A-L-I, not A-L-L-Y or A-L-L-I-E, like so many people spell it wrong. I spell my name A-L-I. It is easy to remember. Actually, my name is A-L-I-S-A-N-D-R-A, but I go by Ali, A-L-I," she answered with a cheerful soprano voice.

"How old are you, Ali?" "I am eleven, but I will turn twelve in September. I don't like races that have only one age group for under-19 because I don't win anything. I like races with awards for runners under 14 because I always win a trophy. Sometimes I finish first, sometimes I finish second."

"How long have you been running?" "I started running when I was eight. My dad and my mom are both runners. They enter a lot of races and they run marathons. I watched dad run when I was six. All the runners threw up when they finished the race, but not my dad. So I asked him 'when are you going to finish?' I thought you had to throw up to finish a race."

As the trail turned decidedly steep, I suggested to my younger companion that we walk up the hill. Ali's response was less than charitable. "No. I don't walk up hills. If you walk in training, you will walk in races. Only wimps walk in races. I never walk in a race. That's why I always win trophies when if there is an under-14 age group. You can walk if you want. I will slow down for you."

Her answer surprised me, but I did not give up. I always walked up that hill. I may be getting old, but I was not ready for wimphood. I rebutted: "Many famous runners walk during races. One famous runner stopped to go to the bathroom in the Philadelphia Half-Marathon then set a world record."

"What was his name?" Ali asked. In my severe anaerobic state, my oxygen-depleted brain could not recall a name. "I don't remember his name." "See," she said, "you are trying to fool me into walking. If this were a true story you would remember the name. I know that real runners don't walk in races. And if you walk in training, you will also walk in races."

Where was Bill Rodgers when I needed him? He could have proved me right. He could have told Ali how he stopped to tie his shoe in Boston on his way to an American record. Oh well, the end of the hill was in sight. I just had to keep Ali talking. That was the easy part.

"Do you run in school?" That question should give me a half-mile reprieve. "I told you I was in sixth grade. In our school we don't start running until seventh grade. You know how all schools are different. Also, all schools are sometimes the same. In our school, we start cross-country in seventh grade. That's why I am running here today to get ready for cross country season."

Our trail experience ended with carrot cake and chocolate cake. Ali watched as I devoured my earned reward. She declined her share, which I gladly claimed.

The following weekend, as I stood crouched at the end of the chute of a local race, waiting to finish the race by Ali's definition, I heard her voice. "Look, Mr. Jabbour, see my trophy. I finished second in my age group. I did not walk at all. I like this race because they have an under-14 age group. I am ready for the Boilermaker now."

I am not! God Bless you Ali, and may a cool breeze and cloudy skies guide you up those Utica hills and down to the finish line.

Kamal Jabbour's trials on trails appear in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at

PS: Ali finished the 1999 Boilermaker race ahead of some 3,000 runners who must have walked during the race.

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