"Don't take me out of the race", he begged. Cere Coichetti was a New York City Police from Brooklyn doing his first marathon on the wall of China. Earlier he had done NYCM and Athens Marathon, but with 5164 steps climbing almost thousand height meters this race was different. Through the marathon the wall are passed both forward and backwards. The final entry at 21 miles was closed after 6 hours and Cere was the last person to make the cutoff and the reason why we met.
"Hitting the wall" at 35k is an experience most marathoners know of, but in this case it was combined with a 250 meters climb in less than a mile. The race was closing after 8 hours and Cere was in serious trouble struggling one step at a time. Why wouldn't he turn around?
Well over the highest point I told Cere that down the wall he would be picked up by a van and driven the last part to the finish line and get his medal. Cere didn't answer. He just ran. Other runners came in between us and only by the pickup van we reached Cere two miles from "home". Time was then ten minutes past deadline and we tried to stop him and get him on the van. Still he refused. "I don't WANT a medal. I want to complete this run", he said, returned his bib and ran away.
Cere crossed the finish line just a few minutes later than the rest of the pack and I was amazed by the extraordinary will he had demonstrated to me. Still only now, knowing that Cere earlier on had recovered after 3 years in a wheelchair due to a skydiving accident, I understand the real dimension of his achievement.
The Great Wall Marathon is covered with personal victories and great stories. My job as a sweeper on the Chinese wall and witness to Ceres victory confirmed me that it is not always the 'front' story that is the best!