On the Run

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It’s raining furiously outside, so today Howard Lindsay is inside a narrow room at the United Nations International School (UNIS), putting his hurdlers through their paces.

“Attack the hurdle,” he urges with commanding repetition. “Don’t be scared of the hurdle. You can’t be scared of it because it won’t hurt you. Lean. Lean!”

Then, a crash.

“That’s all right. Now you know it can’t hurt you. After a while, you’re going to get so used to the hurdle that you won’t even see it anymore.”

Lindsay, 45, has a trim build, shaved head and sports one earring and a salt-and-pepper goatee. When he talks, his students listen. That’s because his voice doesn’t just offer unceasing encouragement; it dispenses the experience of three Olympic Games and more than three decades of running.

Lindsay was born in Jamaica and grew up in the tiny Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

“We’re so small that we don’t really rival Jamaica or The Bahamas,” he said. “And the facilities down on the islands aren’t very good. I grew up running on 300-meter grass tracks. I didn’t start training on rubber tracks until college.”

A Caribbean native, Howard Lindsay ran in three Olympics Games, and netted a scholarship for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
A Caribbean native, Howard Lindsay ran in three Olympics Games, and netted a scholarship for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

College was both a beginning and an end point for Lindsay. It may have marked his first opportunity to train in top facilities, but it was also the fulfillment of a longtime goal that first drew him to the track. Antigua is so small that most youths seeking higher education leave the island. His parents couldn’t afford to send him to school overseas, so when a high school coach told the sophomore how much potential lay in his talent, an idea emerged.

“That’s when I took track seriously, thinking that I could get a scholarship,” Lindsay said. “I knew I was fast, but I didn’t really believe that I was that fast. But my coach at the time had a lot of faith in me and built up my personal faith.”

Several years later, in 1984, Lindsay was at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, running before more than 90,000 people. He returned to the games in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, and in 1996 in Atlanta. In Seoul, he had the distinct pleasure and misfortune of running the 200 meters in the lane next to Carl Lewis, one of the greatest track and field athletes ever. Lindsay spent the entire race watching the back of Lewis’ jersey, finishing about a second behind, but he got a lot of airtime on TV as the camera followed his far more famous competitor. Not once at the Olympics was he able to advance past the first round, but in recounting the experiences it hardly seems to matter.

“It’s unbelievable,” Lindsay said of running at the games. “I always joke that I almost fainted the first time because I never had run before that many people. I’ll never forget that just before I ran, there were some people in the front row. They didn’t know who I was, but they saw Antigua on my singlet and started cheering for me. The camaraderie was great.”

The appearance in Los Angeles drew the attention of collegiate scouts, and Lindsay spent the next four years on scholarship running at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He got a degree in construction management and technology and worked in that field for more than 20 years.

But he never stopped running. Lindsay can no longer summon the speed that took him to a personal best of 45.7 seconds in the 400 meters, but he still competes and took up hurdling several years ago—30 years of running just the 200 and 400 got boring after awhile. At the same time, he tries to teach the sport to his students at UNIS, where he has coached for seven years. When he arrived, the team was small. Now he has 25 kids. He helped start up a cross-country squad last year and is aiming to begin an indoor team as well. This winter, he informally coached a smaller group that didn’t want to stop running between seasons.

“I’m a track fanatic,” Lindsay said. “I was given a talent by the big man upstairs, and I think it’s only fair and right to try to pass it on to the kids.”

Earlier in the year, a few of his runners came out to watch him compete in a meet for masters, runners older than 40. Can any of his students beat him in a race yet?

“Umm, no,” Lindsay said with an almost indignant tone. “Not yet at least, but a few of them are close.”

One day, when the years have let age take its toll, they’ll catch him. But that doesn’t seem to bother their coach much.

“I intend to keep running as long as possible.”

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On The Run

Written by Jessica Firger on . Posted in Books, Posts.


WHEN NOVELIST NAMI MUN first came to the United States, the South Korea native was immediately riveted with her new home. “We arrived in LaGuardia airport and I just bolted and left my family,” says Mun, who remembers being impressed with everyone’s English-speaking ability.

Mun, then eight years old, ran through the terminal and was only forced to stop running when she hit an automatic door with her face. “I’ve always had a can-do attitude, it must be in my DNA,” says Mun, who has worked as an Avon lady, dance hostess, street vendor, photojournalist, bartender and criminal investigator.

Now a writing teacher and novelist, Mun, who will read on Jan. 12 at the Barnes & Noble in Tribeca, has published her first novel, Miles From Nowhere loosely based on her experience as a teenage runaway.

In the world of literary devices, Mun’s childhood airport incident might be described as foreshadowing of the young adult life she would eventually choose for herself.

At the age of 13, Mun bolted once again— this time permanently—leaving her Bronx home for an eclectic and risky life of self-sufficiency that, decades later, would inspire her debut novel about a teenage runaway.Yet years later, Mun still finds it difficult to explain why she left home. “Even though I am 40 years old, I still have a hard time answering questions about the decision, even privately,” says Mun. “The answer is so complicated, it’s one of the reasons why I decided to work on this project.”

In Miles From Nowhere, Mun tells the story of Joon, a nave young Korean girl who runs away from her Bronx home and her near-catatonic mother after her father has left them both. She navigates the mean streets of New York City for the better part of her teenage life, though they provide little solace for her.There are brushes with death, seedy hotels, sexual assaults, drugs and all that might be expected from pre-Giuliani New York City. Constantly on the run, Joon is without the luxury to reflect on her existence; her life is merely a series of acts to survive.

Well into the novel, Joon, like the author, takes a job as an Avon lady, selling cosmetics door-to-door.

“I liked being inside people’s homes, because there I wasn’t pregnant, I wasn’t a runaway, I wasn’t using,” recalls Joon. “With the makeup on I became a new version of me—a well-mannered Korean girl, who sat with her legs crossed in living rooms decorated with plastic-covered couches and plastic-covered lampshades. I smiled often. I spoke softly.”

Mun, who currently lives in Chicago and is a professor of creative writing at Columbia College, insists that only the premise of her own life inspired her novel, rather than the details. However, real life on the street gave Mun admission to tell the story of her protagonist, which she spent eight years penning.

“When I was writing this book, I would try and write a detail that I had experienced or heard.Then immediately I would just go into fictionland,” says Mun, who wrote an average of 40 drafts for each chapter.

While the author recognizes that the two million teenagers that runaway from home each year often end up junkies, homeless, abused and even dead, she doesn’t view her own experience as all bad. “I don’t see myself being a runaway as a negative turn. For me, it was very positive.”

About 10 years ago, when Mun had begun writing her novel, she returned to the Bronx. She walked the familiar neighborhood, flanked by East Gun Hill Road and Pelham Parkway. She walked passed her middle school, I.S. 144, along the path she remembered traveling each day as a child.

“The road was even more depressing than I remembered,” says Mun. She passed the familiar car mechanic and gas station until she reached the house of her childhood. Mun could see there were people in the house.

“They even looked Korean, but I didn’t knock,” she says. “That saying, ‘You can never go home again,’ it’s definitely true.”

> Nami Mun

Jan. 12, Barnes & Noble, 97 Warren St. (at Greenwich St.), 212-587-5389; 7, FREE.

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