Life’s ultimate Sweeper.
Listening to Runners World “Human Race” podcast this morning (Ep. 10) set me to thinking about death.
We are introduced to Sandy Monahan, the Sweeper at the fabled Leadville 100 mile endurance race. A Sweeper is someone, or a couple of folks, that run the course or sections of a course in an ultra-marathon and sweep up anyone who isn’t making the time cut-offs required for a given race. They usually collect either a wrist band or race bib from the runner they are pulling from the course to finalize the end of a runners bid to finish the race. They also make sure no one is left on the course behind them.
These thankless souls are sometimes known as the Angels of Death, or to those who just want out, the Angels of Mercy. I suppose they are sometimes both; Les Ange – coup de grâce!
And I was struck by the deep anguish and tears of these runners who had sacrificed so much to do this amazing race, filled with hope and confidence, having trained and lived an ascetics life in exchange for a lean body, fit and strong and ready to tackle mountains – but things don’t go as planned. Either they get injured by falling or just some fluke pulled muscle, raw feet that are just too chewed up – or, they lose the mental game in some other significant way. Running at altitude can do that to us flat-landers. So can ~11,000 feet of total elevation gain. There are lots of things that can go wrong and end up getting a runner pulled aside and pulled from the course by Sandy. It must seem rather sudden when she produces a small pair of scissors out of her coat and cuts the wrist band off. Just like that – they are done! Their race is over! She gives them a hug as they weep or curse, their dreams over.
She is not unkind. The hug is mandatory. While sometimes she is called all kinds of names and curses – the raging against the dying of the light, I suppose – she is also loved and welcomed; her hugs are often warmly returned, like an old friend that you knew was coming, whether you were ready or not.
The “Angel of Death” even does selfies.