Now there’s a loaded, controversial word certain to liven up the driest of conversations, especially here in Michigan.

Like most people, I have my views about “diversity.” I followed and read the Supreme Court’s rulings in the 2006 University of Michigan cases with a great deal of interest. Even more recently, last year’s Proposal 2 controversy sparked a keen and close scrutiny. And it doesn’t take much to get me going about the schools’ approach to diversity. These larger issues of “diversity” have given me occasion to think (oh-oh!) about it in a different context, of all things, in running.

Originally, what brought all of this on was a single Saturday morning of that historical week of the UM cases before the Supremes. Consider what running presented to my eyes on that day and to my mind as I have frequently thought about it since.
I was returning home from a morning run with one of my training partners. Here were Michael Holmes, a blind, black runner and I, 58-year old (then) white man, running along the residential streets of Clawson, Michigan.

Since my friend was preparing for a marathon, we were doing a bit of intense training, some long tempo runs. Along the way, though, we passed a park with a track. There, a couple of younger-looking women, perhaps beginners, were combining easy jogging and walking.

On my hour-long drive home, I encountered yet more runners. Several, men and women, appeared to be of Asian descent, Middle and Far Eastern. Then, there was a very young girl, likely pre-adolescent, running on a sidewalk. As if to underscore what I was seeing, I rounded a curve in the road and a much older woman—I’m going to guess in her 70s at least (be careful, Ron!)—was shuffling along the shoulder of the road. A quick zip past a Rails-to-Trails path brought a young couple with two baby joggers. I couldn’t see, but I assumed that there were kids in the joggers.

I’ve thought about this unique morning very often since then. A short while ago, I attended an evening party with some close friends. Discussion, at one point, turned to running. One friend is a former football player who runs only for the exercise and social amenities. Another has completed several marathons, yet doesn’t consider himself a racer by any means.
I was asked if a marathon was in my plans for the next year. Chicago, with its 30,000 runners, was mentioned. I hemmed and hawed at the question, finally saying that I didn’t think so. I added that I would want to at least be prepared to run as fast as I might be capable. Right then, I was rebounding from several injuries, only gingerly extending my long runs to five or six miles, leery of the type of training that would get me prepared to go 26.2 miles. I was asked, “Can’t you run it just for the sake of running it?” My answer was quick and needed no thought, “No, I can’t.”

Speaking of marathons and racing, consider road racing. There is a wide variety of participants in the sport. Someone once noted that only in running races on the road can average, run-of-the-mill athletes take part in the same event as world-class elites. And the elites include competitors who are Kenyan, British, Mexican, Japanese, Ethiopian, Russian, Ecuadoran, Ukranian, South African, and, well, does someone have an atlas?
What about masters and seniors divisions? And let’s not forget all of the age-group competitors, vying against their chronological peers, and those runners trying to set personal records. Many races also have Clydesdale divisions for heavier runners. Did anyone say “Penguins?”

So, here we are: tall and short; female and male; old and young; fast, slow, and in-between; skinny and not-so-skinny; black, white, and any race or ethnic group you can think of; those who run the trails or the track or the roats—runners all! I’m not real big on mushy stuff, but, to me, this is all very uplifting and inspiring.

We may have different paces, distances, motives, goals, and whatnot, but we do have something in common. And that’s what gets us out there—one or three or seven days a week—enjoying what we do.

If the Supremes, the University of Michigan, both sides of the Proposal 2 controversy, and anybody else want to know what real diversity is, maybe they should take a long, hard look at runners and their running. They’ll discover that running’s appeal extends to an incredible variety of people with an incredible variety of ideas. Running embraces all of us, including our differences.

****The above-mentioned Michael Holmes (and most of his guide-runners!) has run into a streak of bad luck. Just a few months ago, Holmes had a “stable” of six. Now, due to injuries, illness, and other commitments, he’s down to just a couple training partners. Holmes is trying to train for his summer racing, which culminates in the Crim in August. If anyone in the Clawson area is interested in guide-running, please contact me.