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Dr. J. on Running

Ghost of Andersen

Unsafe at Any Speed

Published October 15, 2001 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The scene was reminiscent of the inaugural women's Olympic Marathon. In a flash, I recalled the entry of Gabriela Andersen into the Los Angeles Coliseum. Arms flailing and body swaying from severe muscular dysfunction caused by dehydration, she struggled through the final lap around the track.

I watched the television screen in disbelief as officials and paramedics awaited her at the finish line. She proceeded in slow motion, rewriting the latest chapter women's running. Finally, her puppet-like body reached the finish line and collapsed.

Sadly, a remake of Andersen's saga plays in front of our eyes at virtually every scholastic and collegiate cross country meet. At a recent out-of-town cross country meet, with warm temperatures and high humidity, runners competed for trophies and rankings, ribbons and ratings. Two women jumped into the lead from the gun: a glowing muscular athlete who could grace the cover of any health magazine and a pale gauntly shadow with thighs thinner than a rolling pin.

They ran side by side the first kilometer before leading the pack into the woods. They returned by the start area two miles into the race, still running stride for stride. I noticed a contrast in their faces. The rush of blood turned one face into a shiny red that reflected the high sun, while the eyes sunk into the white cheeks of the other face deprived from any evident blood flow.

Into the woods they went for the last time. Minutes later, the leader emerged alone with a strong erect body, a symmetrical running form, arms pumping to the musical rhythm of the cheering crowds and a red glow on her face. She crossed the finish line with a smile of fulfillment, and proceeded to the water table and the waiting crowds.

In the distance, I saw the ghost of Andersen exiting the woods. The runner who had shared the lead most of the race had been reduced to an uncoordinated puppet shuffling emotionlessly towards the chute. I looked in disbelief, and felt a paralysis gripping my faculties. I tried to move, but could not. I tried to speak, but could not hear my words.

I saw her legs bowing inwards as her knees collided and her feet diverged. Her legs failed repeatedly as the final steps turned into an eternity. Her arms flailed to her sides as her shoulders bent inwards. Her eyes stared into space as her cheekbones protruded from her blood-drained face. Her skin had no color. She showed no sign of pain. She did not show any sign of life either, except for her erratic motion.

Finally, she collapsed across the finish line, only to be helped back onto her feet and out of the chute. Officials, coaches and family surrounded her, accomplices in endangering the life of this runner by encouraging her, let alone permitting her to compete.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created TrackMeets.com, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at jabbour@i2sports.com.


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