It must be difficult for those who hate running or who say they cannot run alone or without music (“too boring”) to understand the basic feeling of freedom that is invested in such a simple act. Of course, you often need to suffer a bit, in order to get fit enough to enjoy it. But for those who do get it, it is often more difficult not to run. For example, I was outraged over ten years ago, when my friendly neighbourhood physio casually remarked that I shouldn’t be running daily, as he put it, “at your age”.
But the accelerating propensity to injury that comes with advancing years – it is the only thing that does go faster – dictates the occasional tactical rest. So yesterday evening, rather than enjoy that solitary act of communion with nature that is my regular run in the magnificent surroundings of Hampstead Heath in north-west London, I forced myself to read a few more pages of the pile of books, magazines, letters and email print-outs (yes, I know!) that infest every surface of my flat.
And there I found a reminder of the ultimate example of a breach of that freedom that you and I, who love running, enjoy.
Miguel Benancio Sánchez loved running too. But Miguel has not been able to run since 1978, in fact Miguel has not been able to do anything for these last 32 years. Because, aged 25, and one week after his third participation in one of the most wonderful races on earth, the New Year’s Eve Corrida de Sao Paulo in Brazil, Miguel became one of the thousands of Argentines, but the only athlete/poet, to be ‘disappeared’.
This was the infamous era of the Argentine generals, the military dictatorship whose favourite game was not running, but torture, and ‘disappearing’ an increasing number of opponents, who became known as Los Desaparacidos.
This Sunday, March 21, in a suburb of the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, and the following week in his birthplace of Tucumán, there will be a series of 10k and shorter runs, in memory of Miguel Sánchez. There are other events around the world with the same or similar title, La Carrera de Miguel (Miguel’s Run/Race), and many thousands participate. The philosophy is the same, no entry fee, no appearance fee, no prize money. Many international athletes and celebrities take part.
But the first such run – La Corsa di Miguel – was in Rome ten years ago, and it was thanks to the initiative of Italian colleague, Valerio Piccioni, of Gazetta dello Sport. And it is thanks to his friend, and mine, Franco Fava, of rival sportspaper Corriere dello Sport that I know about this.
Twelve years ago, Valerio was travelling in Argentina, where he chanced to meet Miguel’s sister, Elvira, who told him the sad story of her brother, and showed him Miguel’s diary. There on the page for December 31, 1977, he read,’Very happy today, had a 20 minute run with Franco Fava’.
Because prior to taking up the disreputable profession of sportswriter, Franco was twice Olympian (Munich and Montreal), and held all Italian records from 3000m to marathon, with bests of 8.18.85 for the steeple, 27.42.65 for 10,000m, and 2.12.54 for the marathon.
The 11th Corsa di Miguel, with 5000 participants was held a month ago in Rome, and Franco, who has long since retired, ran for only the second time. “It took me 43mins, which is 7min faster than three years ago, when I was 10kg more,” he wrote in an email.
“I had completely forgotten about Miguel and Sao Paulo until Valerio reminded me 12 years ago. We were born in the same year, 1952. Unfortunately, Elvira was not in Buenos Aires the day Miguel came back (from Sao Paulo). Even now, when she is in Rome for the Miguel Race, she’s saying to me,’You are the last one who met him,’ and she starts to cry”.
Miguel Benancio Sánchez was disappeared, but true to the slogan of the event – No al Olvido – he, like the many others, is not forgotten.
(The following poem by Miguel, Para vos, Atleta (For you, Athlete) was published in one of the Paulista newspapers on the day of his final race, December 31, 1977)
Para vos atleta
para vos que sabés del frío, de calor,
de triunfos y derrotas
para vos que tenés el cuerpo sano
el alma ancha y el corazón grande.
Para vos que tenés muchos amigos
la alegría adulta y la sonrisa de los niños.
Para vos que no sabés de hielos ni de soles
de lluvia ni rencores.
Para vos, atleta
que recorriste pueblos y ciudades
uniendo Estados con tu andar
Para vos, atleta
que desprecias la guerra y ansías la paz.