The Sendai Half Marathon

A couple weeks ago, in the heart of earthquake/tsunami/meltdown ravaged Tohoku, there was a footrace. It’s an annual event, this footrace, called the Sendai Half Marathon. It goes without saying that last year in the wake of the devastation, the race was cancelled.

This year the Sendai Half Marathon returned. A friend of mine was there. He’d gone up there before. About a year ago he went up to one of the most damaged seaside towns to help with the clean up. What he saw there was exactly what we all saw on TV. Cars smashed into the second stories of buildings, ships resting on highways and in rice fields, buildings ripped off their foundations and delivered miles from their addresses.

Now, a year later, he was back on the quiet seashore whence the demon wave had come. Most of the big debris is gone. There are no more cars in second floor windows, no more ships on highways. But the towns are gone too. Rebuilding is slow, and the clean-up continues–gradually. Still the rice fields are not fit to grow rice. The salt residue from the seawater will kill the plants. Years of flushing the land is necessary before the first rice crops will be possible. But no flushing can be done until all the debris is removed. That’s what scores of volunteers are doing now–doing still–ever since the Tsunami receded.

It’s still difficult for the people of Tohoku. Towns are still gone, but temporary buildings have allowed people to leave the shelters and begin pulling their own lives back together.  Jobs are hard to come by, yet there is so much that needs to be done. Instead of  buildings, piles of rubble as big as soccer fields fill the skyline. This is what my friend encountered when he went back.

While he was there, my friend ran in the Sendai Half-Marathon. He told me that as he ran, he heard the voices of the people cheering him on. They cheered each runner as they passed with words like “Fight,” “Ganbare,” and “Forward.” As he ran, he felt the spirit of these words enter his soul in ways that no other race crowd’s cheers had ever done. At first he wondered how the words could be so powerful–how, with every word, his tired legs seemed to find the strength to continue.

As he felt himself rush to the finish line with a power that hardly seemed his own, he realized that these words were not really for him. The words in the air spoke to everyone around him. The people of Sendai… the people of all the Tohoku region… were encouraging each other to continue fighting. They were cheering for themselves.

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