Some are lumpy.
Others are impressive: toned, fit, picture-perfect.
A few have overcome hardships and handicaps that would keep most people in the easy chair. Call them inspirational.
And the rest?
They’re the everyman and everywoman, normal people with unwanted bulges and birthday handles and extra weight thanks to too many years of inactivity, too many drive-through meals and too many birthdays. You, me, us. The men among us shouldn’t be caught dead in those Speedos worn by Olympic divers; the women would agree.
Yet, we’re active because we enjoy it. We bike or run or swim or hike or lift weights or play hoops at the Y or Zumba because we value the sweat and dig the results. Call it what you want: adrenaline, endorphins or just plain fun. For some, it’s a drug; we feel good, beautiful agony, and we like how it makes us look.
Nevertheless, most of us will always struggle with those unwanted bulges or excess weight — no matter how many miles we bike, how many races we run, or how many laps we swim.
It’s impossible not to draw the parallels between the freaks of nature at the Olympics and the real-world athletes who will star here just after Saturday’s sunrise. The summer Olympics unveil everything good about the sporting spirit and everything impressive about the results of physical training. Go ahead and say it: By and large, Olympic athletes are the envy of anyone who yearns to be faster, fitter or stronger. What’s their body-fat percentage? What’s their cholesterol level? What’s their blood pressure and standing heart rate? Can they be any lower?
If only that were us.
What’s inspirational about the Woodstock — other than the elite runners who may post sub-16-minute times — is that it has become a community-wide gathering for all. It’s well-documented, and admirable, how the race has attempted to re-link Anniston’s white and black communities, if only in a small way. But by becoming a can’t-miss Calhoun County event, it also has opened the door for hundreds of people who aren’t addicted to activity to give it a try. And trying is the first step to a lifestyle change for those who suffer from Alabama’s worsening epidemic of weight-related health problems.
That’s the real joy of Saturday morning. The Woodstock is a national championship 3.1-mile race that attracts international runners with superhuman talent. (Go ahead; try running three miles in less than 20 minutes.) But it also attracts hundreds of people who, like me, are more ordinary than Olympian, if you get my drift.
It’s not the Boston Marathon. You don’t have to qualify. You don’t have to be swift. You don’t even have to run; walking’s fine.
Just enter and show up.
Normally, I’m not a big fan of Nike’s advertising campaigns, but the company’s ads during the London Olympic broadcasts have been sheer genius. (Nike’s not an Olympic sponsor, so there are no references to the Games.) The latest shows a 12-year-old Ohio boy jogging on a deserted rural road. I’ll be nice and call him flabby. Slowly, diligently, he moves toward the camera. You can hear his footsteps and his strained breaths.
“It’s just something we made up.
“Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is a gift reserved for a chosen few, for prodigies, for superstars, and the rest of us can only stand by watching.
“You can forget that.
“Greatness is not some rare DNA strand, not some precious thing. Greatness is no more unique to us than breathing.
“We’re all capable of it. All of us.”
That script is quintessential Nike hyperbole, overblown to the core, but it strikes a chord. And it strikes me that that Ohio boy is the essence of what will take place Saturday morning on Woodstock Avenue. Imperfect people will run or walk three miles for a variety of reasons. For some, it may be the only three miles they run all year. For others, it may kick-start the next phase of their lives — lives in which exercise helps them combat age, ailments and the bathroom scale.
In that way, the Woodstock isn’t a race.
It’s an invitation. A proposition. A clarion call for Alabamians to embrace a healthier, less-destructive way of life.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.