The Stranger in the Park

There’s a man in my local park who’s an inspiration to me. I don’t know his name and he doesn’t know mine. He doesn’t know he inspires me. How many other men and women are out there, unaware of their influence on another’s life?

The stranger in the park is a tall walker in his late 60s or 70s. I first saw him last summer when I resumed running after an illness. I started to notice that we were often in the park on Saturdays and Sundays at about the same time, in the middle of the afternoon. I was running clockwise and he was walking the other way. The park’s loop is 4.3 miles (6.9 km) and I would meet him at least twice. As I got better and extended my run to two loops, I would see him more.

On days when we would see each other multiple times, we would acknowledge each other with a nod and a smile at the first encounter, a “hello!” the second time, and a “hello again” or “here we go again!” the third. Sometimes, he didn’t see me, especially on nice days, when the park was crowded with other runners, walkers and cyclists. I wondered if he didn’t recognize me. I assume that sometimes I didn’t see him.
I wonder who he is, what his life is like, whether he’s married or alone, why he walks, how much time he spends in the park, what’s driving him.

One day in autumn, under heavy rain, I met just a few people in the park. He was one of them. I saw him coming towards me. By now, I could recognize his way of walking from afar. We were both drenched and we nodded.

After Thanksgiving, I started running with a local club, the Delco Road Runners Club. Their Saturday run in the park is in the morning and the Sunday run is in another town.

(Ridley Creek State Park on Feb. 7, 2010, after a a snowstorm.)

A few weeks ago, I was running in the park with three or four club members at about 9 in the morning. There was snow and ice on the ground after record snowstorms. It was bitter cold for the season. I saw the stranger again. He was walking alone, as usual. I tried to make eye contact but I don’t think he saw me. Is he walking all day in the park?

Two weeks ago, the sun was back. The snow had partially melted. We were a group of six runners on Saturday morning, shortly after 9 a.m., when I saw the walker. After we passed by him, I told my group about this man, who seemed to be spending all day in the park. “He probably thinks the same of you,” said Steve, one of my fellow runner.

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