Long Shot (noun): "A venture unlikely to succeed."
So for this blog I'm going to try something a little different. Instead of writing about a race or experience that has already happened, today, I am going to write about one that has yet to. Cause while I normally sit down to write about these races, with the sights, sounds, and sentiments of the ending or finish still fresh in my mind, this entry centers around one possibly in doubt.
One that hardly seems like a safe bet, which, ironically, seems like an appropriate place to start.
Like many of us, I think, my father taught me how to gamble.
No, he didn't take me to the race track, or hand me wads of cash to take to the blackjack table. No, my father chose instead to teach me in other ways. Ways that began when I was quite young.
The setting was an old tan couch in my parents living room. I would sit clad in my pajama top and tighty whities underneath a fleece blanket watching Saturday morning cartoons, as my brother would maneuver his Playmobil action figures across the carpet in front of me. And invariably at some point, either during Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my father footsteps would come creaking down the stairs.
"Anyone want to bet a dollar on last night's Phillies game?"
Of course the question was unnecessary, as the temptation of how many Sour Patch Kids that dollar could buy always proved too much to turn down.
"Okay" he would say through his thick, brown beard,"I'll give you the Phillies and six runs."
Then he would explain again to my brother how that works. How you added six runs to whatever the Phillies scored in real life and after that, whichever team had more runs won.
The obligatory handshaking would ensue to seal the bet.
"Ahhh too bad son." He'd say as he would plop down on the couch beside me, drawing the sport's page from his back pocket to reveal the box score, "Phillies lost by seven."
From these Saturday mornings I learned quite a bit, first the finer points of gambling, and second, that my father is full of shit, and not above betting his young children on sporting events he already knows the outcome to.
But I'll get back to that first lesson, and what I learned about gambling in a little bit.
So this weekend, for those of you who are not from Philadelphia, or those who don't run is the Philadelphia Marathon weekend. A weekend that consists of the marathon, a simultaneous half-marathon and an 8k that is held on Saturday. A weekend that will draw thousands of runners from all over the globe, runners of varying ages and race, skills and stature.
The weekend will feature some 200 elite racers, former Olympians, and returning champions all striving to be the first to break that finishers tape.
And just behind those elites will wait a sea of 18,000 registered runners, calibrating their state of the art GPS watches, and bouncing on expensive footwear, with hopes of personal or course records.
And still within that sea of 18,000, there will be one, one runner with a watch with a minute hand on it, standing on donated sneakers, with the hopes of crossing a seemingly unlikely finish line 26.2 miles away from where he stands.
One runner, in short, a long shot.
And I'll be standing next to him.
His name is Troy. A man I met some two and change years ago outside St. John's Hospice, a converted homeless shelter for men here in Philadelphia. A shelter that drips with irony, as it sits each and every day resting in the shadow of the Philadelphia Convention Center, the site of some of this City's largest revenue generating events.
Troy wouldn't stand out to you immediately if you came to visit our Back on My Feet team. He's a shy man, with mild manner that matches an equally gentle disposition. He's caring and trusting, and despite his four decades on this planet, seems to approach his days with a youthful amount of wonder and innocence that you can't help but find endearing.
I've watched as Troy has grown into a runner that even he admits he never expected to be. I've watched him with his wholly unique running stride (think cross country skiing meets trampolining), trot his way over two half-marathons, numerous 5ks, and countless training runs in between. I've watched as Troy has moved out of the homeless shelter, out of St. Johns, and still despite living quite far from where we as a team meet, continue to come out in the morning to train.
But when we line up on Sunday, those other runners around us won't see any of that.
They'll see a long shot in donated sneakers.
And who knows, maybe they are right.
But one thing I do know is that despite the races I've run, and despite the fact that I've been doing this long enough to have accumulated enough stuff to look the part of a "seasoned runner", I'm not that far removed from being a long shot myself, if removed at all.
But when I think back not that long ago at the moments in my life where faith was hard to come by, there was one person above all others who cast me as a long shot. It wasn't the teachers, the coaches, friends or family. It was one person, one voice that never believed I could make it to the end.
Which leads us back to gambling.
Because there's a funny little thing about gambling. There's a funny little wrinkle that I think is best described through horse racing. A funny little thing about odds.
Most of us are familiar with the odds given at horse races; 10-1, 2-1, 17-1, etc. But for those who are not, these odds represent the amount of money you stand to take home if your horse wins. So if I bet one dollar on a horse with 17-1 odds, if that horse wins, I take home seventeen dollars, and if I bet one dollar on a 2-1 horse, I would get two dollars.
The odds also speak to which horse is most likely to win the race. Obviously, the 2-1 horse has a better odds of beating the 17-1 long shot.
But here is the funny thing about those odds.
You see, these odds aren't set by experts or analysts. They aren't set by race track personnel or horse insiders. In actuality, they aren't set by officials of any kind.
They are set by the bets that are wagered.
You see the odds move with the money. So if the majority of the bets are being put on a specific horse, that horse's odds of winning will go up, becoming the most likely to win.
In other words, the more people who believe he will win, the higher his odds to do so become.
Which brings me back to Troy.
Back to the man in the donated sneakers, and back to the point of this blog.
Bet on Troy.
Bet on Troy by liking this link.
Like this link if you believe that there is more to a man than what you can see on the outside. Like this link if you believe that helping someone else, and helping yourself are not two separate things. Like this link if you believe that it's never too late for the human spirit to re-ignite, no matter how small the spark may be. Like this link if you know Troy, even if you have never met him.
Like this link if you believe that the first step to believing in yourself, is believing that someone else believes in you.
And like this link to show Troy that he's really not such a long shot after all.