Penn State Heads to Long Island
I went up to Long Island this weekend to run the half-marathon in the 2009 Long Island festival of races. When I got there, I had to check in at the runner’s expo. The first person I met, a man named Charlie, gave me a big smile when he handed me my information. “University Park?” he said. “My wife went to Penn State!”
From there, it turned into an experiment: how many PSU fans could I meet during a 13.1 mile race 266 miles away from Happy Valley? I put my Penn State shirt to the test this morning at 8 a.m.
How many PSU fans could I meet in 13.1 miles?
I didn’t meet any fans for the first two miles. But as we ran through Westbury, a man shouted “Go Nittany Lions!” I turned around to wave to him, and then he shouted “Buckeyes!” Naturally, I booed.
The guy next to me reprimanded me: “You’re going to boo this man who came out in the rain to cheer for you?” “Hey, man,” I responded, “we beat Ohio State for the first time in Columbus in 30 years. We rioted in the streets! I can’t cheer for the Buckeyes.” The guy just shrugged. Clearly he’s never been to Happy Valley.
By mile five, I started to despair. And then came the torrent of fans. Three crowds along the side of the road yelled, “Go, Penn State!” At mile eight, a girl with Energizer bunny ears handing out Gatorade pumped her first in the air and shouted, “Yeah, Penn State!”
Two minutes later, another middle-aged man ran up next to me. “Penn State?” he asked, with a heavy Brooklyn accent. “My niece goes there. It’s a great place.” He then confessed that he was the Chief Officer of the Emergency Services Unit in Brooklyn and the supervisor of all the policemen who worked the marathon. All because of the Penn State logo!
At mile eleven, a whole family decked out in Penn State gear cheered me on and spurred me to the finish line. Once I finished, I saw my name and area of residence (UP!) tightly sandwiched between lists and lists of New Yorkers. But no matter; amidst 6,000+ runners, one Penn State shirt and several loyal fans helped me feel at home.
One last thing: the woman who coached me during my training and called me right after the race? That’s right; she’s a Penn State alumna.