Adam C Banker | Utica, NY
Adam from Utica, NY
I hope you don’t mind, but I recently borrowed one of your famous phrases (which you borrowed from Uncle Alex) for a speech. I of course attributed the quote to you (sorry, Uncle Alex!). I was asked to speak at a small gathering of high schoolers in Utica, NY, who won the same scholarship I won many years ago. The scholarship is awarded to distance runners by the Utica Boilermaker, which is a wonderful, world-famous 15K road race that has taken place in in the heart of New York State, aka Utica, every second Sunday of July for 41 years now. Holy smokes! There’s something special about competitive running that I think you would admire: we’re all crazy and we enjoy each other’s company, even if we’re not on the same team. That’s what my speech was about, more or less. I talked about runners from other schools I looked up to, because even though we had close races against each other for years, we always loved seeing each other. It’s nice to forget about the name on someone’s jersey and instead get to know the person wearing it. Other sports don’t have that as much, which is a shame. Some of them even make you and your opponent wear masks, so you only get to see the different name on their different colored jersey and are taught to hate everything about that. So some of us run instead. After all, there’s no better sport to train you to fight than running. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from you, this one from Timequake: “Trout’s story reminds me of the time my late great-aunt Emma Vonnegut said she hated the Chinese. Her late son-in-law Kerfuit Stewart, who used to own Stewart’s Book Store in Louisville, Kentucky, admonished her that it was wicked to hate that many people all at once.” That’s not the quote from you I used in my speech, but it’s almost exactly what I meant. These are topical times, after all! Here’s what I said with yours and Uncle Alex’s words: “Until 11th grade, I always beat Conor, but that year, his senior year, he dominated me in cross country and ended up running at Federations. But we were always friends, and I found out his aunt used to be my grandfather’s secretary, so she and Conor’s whole family would cheer for me during races—even races against Conor. I’d like to let that fact settle in because to me that feels particular to running more than other sports. As Kurt Vonnegut was fond of saying, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” I think you would like this road race because there is a tremendous sense of family, friendship, and community. In fact, I said so as much in the closing of my speech: “For 15 kilometers you cannot get a break for a single second from hearing strangers stand out in the streets screaming support for you. They don’t have to cheer for you in that heat, or hand you water, or hose you down, or keep you entertained with music, dancing, and funny signs for a couple of hours. But they do. For 15 kilometers you’ll notice fellow competitors—runners and wheelchair racers, perhaps every one of them a stranger—cheering for you as you pass them or they pass you, helping you surge up the golf course hill or letting you ahead of them to grab that cup of water or run through the water hose. And they don’t have to, but they do. That’s the community the Boilermaker creates. So while you are running, even if you feel miserable or aren’t staying on the pace you want, please try to cheer for and congratulate the people around you. Thank your friends, family, coaches, the spectators, organizers, security, volunteers, and water-teams for their help and support. And take at least one moment to look around and say ‘if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” So, Kurt, wherever you are now (we know you’re up in heaven!) I hope you find time to come to Utica this summer and revel in all the camaraderie and spontaneous friendships this running gathering creates. And if you’re not impressed with that, stick around for the free beer!