For two years now, the Montreal Marathon has been the setting for a little miracle.
It started out in 2009, when a group of runners inspired by the Students Run L.A. program launched a project in Montreal, Canada, to help at-risk youngsters get a new outlook on life by getting off their couches and taking on the challenge of running a full marathon.
They called the project Etudiants Dans La Course, or Students On The Run. They recruited 20 kids from various high schools and about 25 grown-ups from all walks of life to be their mentors. I joined the program about half-way through the year, after discovering its existence through an article in a local paper.
We trained 3 times a week in every conceivable weather, completed races starting from 5K up to half marathons and cultivated the dream. Then, on a crisp September morning, we all gathered on the starting line of the Montreal Marathon and the magic happened : every single kid gave their all and finished the course. And all of them changed forever.
It's an amazing thing to witness.
This year, I started the program from day 1. We had over 30 students at the beginning, many of them angry, confused and out of shape. The first training consisted of 10 minutes of a slow jog, and not everyone was able to run it continuously. There was a lot of huffing and puffing and not so much conversation. Many dubious looks.
Then, weeks passed. Some improvement occurred. We learned each other's names, played some fun games and started getting to know everyone a little bit better. Without even noticing, we went from a couple minutes to a couple kilometers of running, and some of the scoffing and rolling eyes was replaced with smiles and cheers.
It wasn't always easy. You need some serious motivation and dedication to follow through the program. As the year unfolded, we went from 32 kids to about 20. It's all right, the marathon isn't for everyone. The ones who remained formed an ever closer pack, bonding with their mentors and among themselves.
On September 25th, 20 students toed the line, jittery, excited. We'd shared the bus ride with superathlete Pierre Lavoie and were welcome to the course by none other than Canadian running legend Bruny Surin. We wore face paint and hair tattoos, pocketed lucky charms and shared mp3 playlists. We were ready.
The run was long and some stretches were hard, but about 6 hours later, we screamed our last student in; every single kid had made it across the finish line, becoming not only a marathon runner, but a positive, healthy young person ready for the challenges of life ahead of them. And that, my friends, is nothing short of a miracle.
Achaymaa, Jessica, Sarah, Karlenne, Melissandre, Soukaina, Hadi, Carl-Alexandre, Carlos, Nicolas, Keven, Ndembi, Mouamadou, Francois, Francis, Massimo, Akim, Pascal, Zaher, Juan Pablo, you are heroes to me. You hold a place in my heart forever.
Godspeed, my young friends.
A picture album of the event can be viewed here