Running in Jerusalem

Why is this marathon different from all others?

An athlete dressed as Wonder Woman runs in the Jerusalem Marathon on March 9 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
An athlete dressed as Wonder Woman runs in the Jerusalem Marathon on March 9
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
I’VE HAD the pleasure of watching many marathons in different parts of the world. To be clear, in most cases I’ve attended as a spectator or “cheerleader” egging on runners along the route, especially my husband and twin sister. Their respective “fun” races over the years have taken us from South Africa’s premier long-distance race, the grueling 89- km Comrades marathon in KwaZulu-Natal, to the scenic Two Oceans marathon in Cape Town, and the more recent Tiberius marathon along the beautiful Lake Kinneret in the north of Israel. As a young radio news reporter, many years ago, I even covered the Comrades race from a hot air “blimp.” I get goosebumps just thinking of the sight of thousands of runners “from above” – people of all ages tackling the famous KZN Midlands hills within the 12-hour deadline.
So, why then is the Jerusalem Marathon so special? Was it because our son took on the 10-km race for the first time, with his dad? Of course, that’s a moving sight for any proud mom, but it wasn’t just that. Was it the sight of 35,000 athletes from all parts of the world taking on the hilly course through parts of the Old City of Jerusalem, passing a range of historic landmarks on a route through 3,000 years of history? True, that is an incredible sight, but we’ve had the pleasure of coming to the marathon before, so why does this year feel different?
The first reason this year was so special, is being able to witness the strength and determination shown by the inspiring South African cancer warrior, Brenda Stern. A year ago, while undergoing chemotherapy, Brenda made a deal with a friend that she was going to “kick cancer’s butt” and compete in the 10-km race at the Jerusalem Marathon. She called her first ever 10 km race her “Survivor Goal.”
Brenda joined a large contingent of runners from South Africa, who took on the race on behalf of the DL Link, to raise money for cancer patients. She had finished her treatment on December 1 and started training for the race in January. She had never run a race before. Each athlete ran in a shirt with the name of one member of the organization, in the same way that one of the South African runners at last year’s race ran with the name “Brenda” on his shirt. With the motto, “When your legs can’t run anymore, run with your heart,” these runners in red could be spotted all along the route. Brenda’s achievement was particularly close to home for all who know her – she exudes such positive energy and ko’ach (power). She is a real-life Wonder Woman.
The second reason this year’s marathon was so different from all others, is the fact that we were experiencing it for the first time as olim hadashim (new immigrants). In the previous years, we’d taken part as tourists, keen to get a shawarma at a popular spot nearby as soon as the race was over! This time, we felt like “hosts” of sorts – able to welcome and cheer along all the athletes, feel proud of the winners from Kenya and cheer on the scores of the runners seen pushing friends in wheelchairs up the hills of the Old City. We got to share stories with a South African family who are in the country for a one-year experience or adventure, and watch scores of runners from all over the globe who took on a tough race in the name of a charity or cause that means the world to them.
And that feels like something new, unique and memorable.