silhouette on Boylston Street

You could see it coming: An early spring heat wave, making its way from the Great Plains eastward across the central United States. The unseasonable weather spared neither north nor south as it baked its way across the country.

With only a week to go before the start of the 116th Boston Marathon, BAA warnings began arriving for registered runners. Faced with an ominous forecast, race officials warned: “Only the fittest runners should attempt the marathon,” causing me to introspect, at age 70 and just weeks removed from Melanoma surgery, how I could possibly be in that “fittest” group. However, the chance to lengthen my streak of consecutive Boston Marathon finishes to ten overrode any conservative decision to defer or postpone. So, at 10:40 a.m. on Patriots Day, when the gun went off in Hopkinton for my starting wave, once again, I struck out on foot for Boston.

Conditions were brutal and everyone was suffering, me included. To survive, I purposely slowed my speed, determined to finish, even if it meant a much slower pace than usual. By 20 miles, the heat was nearly unbearable, and I was running up the longest and tallest of the infamous Newton hills climbs, Heartbreak Hill. I was on the verge of quitting; deciding to give up before I died from heatstroke.

I had been trying to snag a half banana or an ice-pop from a helpful spectator, but to no avail. Suddenly the grubby, dirty hand of an eight year old unfurled just in front of me, over on the edge of the crowd. Even now, I can still see the little hand, fist opening as if in slow motion, to reveal the offering he had for me: a single red grape.

Ignoring the filthy palm, and with the reaction time of a coiled snake, I struck at the tiny fruit, grabbing the grape from the grimy hand. A slight smile was visible on the kid’s face, before my slow stride carried me past his view. Considering my need, I was disappointed to receive only a single grape. Why not a bigger prize; say a snack offering more energy-producing nutrition, more refreshment, more good taste.

I immediately popped the dirty grape into my mouth. It was not what I expected! This wasn’t just a red grape. This was a FROZEN red grape, one of the most comforting, soothing and satisfying treats imaginable, and it came at a time when I was about to hit the invisible, though very real marathon runner’s wall.

By the time I finished feasting on the lone red grape, I had reached the top of Heartbreak Hill, revived and invigorated, perhaps more emotionally than physically. The boost was not just from the grape, but from the gesture of the kid, the realization his meager gift to me had turned out to be far more than he, or I, would ever have dreamed possible.

That single grape was enough to take me over the crest of the hill, and from there on to complete the remaining miles to the finish line in downtown Boston. I had achieved a significant milestone, one not claimed by many: ten consecutive Boston Marathon finishes.

Many times a day, God unfurls his hand to us to offer us one red grape. It’s up to us to grab the prize he offers. It’s not necessarily the huge, extravagant, showy gift we think we need that makes the most difference. Many times the lone red grape he provides does far more for us than simply take us to the top of our next hill.

Kenneth Williams
Corinth, Mississippi
Age 70
Bib # 21200