Last night, runners of the UK went to the cinema in their masses to see a special screening of Skid Row Marathon. This American film was shown in cinemas across the county on this one day, it’s not on general release. Most of us, I think, had heard about it via the British running podcast Marathon Talk, who were instrumental in making the screening happen. The hosts had raved about the film for a number of months now, so I had high expectations – high enough to drive over an hour on a weeknight to my local cinema. We live in the sticks, we have no cinema. But there we were, the Husband and I, scoffing our car-picnic as we hurtled along the M4 to Reading. The cinema lobby was full of lean, sporty types meeting their friends in that kind of awkward manner that says they usually only see these people in lycra and didn’t quite know how to respond to them in actual clothes. The Husband got popcorn and we settled down to watch.
I started crying even before the movie started because they showed a British short film beforehand. I can’t find it on the internet yet but, entitled ‘I run on’, it talks about the spiritual, healing aspect of running. It features several people who had literally changed their lives around through The Running Charity, who work with homeless young people in London. It made me incredibly grateful for all that running has given to me and had given to these people.
The actual Skid Row Marathon movie was fabulous. It tells the true story of a Californian High Court judge, Judge Craig Mitchell who spends his day upholding the law with compassion and grace but spends his early mornings running with the running club he set up at one of the biggest shelters in LA’s Skid Row. It featured a number of people who had had the courage and fortitude to leave their lives of drug and alcohol abuse and to start afresh, aided by the discipline, joy and camaraderie that they found in training for a marathon, supported by this incredible judge.
It was incredibly humbling to watch. Humbling to see the challenges faced by so many when my own life is so easy. But also humbling to see the tireless efforts put in by Judge Mitchell. This is a man who, when his son graduated middle school, told him ‘There is a special place reserved in hell for those who, at a time of great moral crisis, choose to remain neutral’. I agree with the sentiment but I agree from my armchair. Judge Mitchell has chosen to agree from the streets.
One thing that he said also struck me. His marathon runners train and run marathons across the world – in the film they ran marathons in Ghana and in Rome. People have asked why they choose international marathons – why they spend so much money taking runners there when they could run Californian marathons for so much less. But Judge Mitchell said he believed that when you take out of their everyday lives people who have not had the chance to travel, you open their eyes to what else is out there and that gives them dignity. I love traveling and experiencing different cultures – I hadn’t thought of the way that traveling can give dignity.
One of the runners particularly moved me – a man who had killed another and had gone to jail. He was out on parole and was determined to honor the life he’d taken. He couldn’t restore it to its rightful owner but he could make the most of the life he had by doing the most good he could do. Judge Mitchell’s ethos is that ‘one horrendous act does not define a person in his entirety’ and this gentleman epitomized that ethos. When he finally was granted his freedom, it was pretty moving.
Skid Row Marathon is a beautiful movie. It’s humbling and inspiring and challenging. It made me want to run and it made me want to change the world a little. As I start my teaching career in September, I know that the idealist in me wants to change the world in some way. This movie reminded me that small acts done regularly with love can actually do that.
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