The Way I See It: Rice University and the significance of the Houston Marathon

BY GABE CUADRA

This opinion piece originally appeared in a column called “The Fifth Lap” in the Jan. 18, 2013 Rice Thresher.

Ten thousand stories passed by Rice last Sunday morning.

Or perhaps better said, 10,000 sets of people’s stories. As much of campus slept or sheltered from the cold, rainy morning, 10,000 people raced, ran, shuffled and walked past the ninth mile marker and down South Main Street on their way to completing the Houston Marathon, each with their own unique tales of how they came to the starting line.

I have had the privilege of volunteering during the marathon over the last four years, with jobs that include updating the splits of the leaders from the press truck and working in the elite athlete hospitality suite. Every year, I have come away struck by the event.

Gabe Cuadra

I am always impressed by the display of human persistence. For over six hours, runners of all ability levels battle blisters, sore muscles, aching joints and whatever conditions the temperamental Houston January weather decides to throw at them, all in order to reach a finish line that marks not only the end of a race, but also the completion of months of preparation.

And I am always moved by the show of support for the runners. From fans to bands and belly dancers, not to mention scores of volunteers, every year the people of Houston come out to support the runners that flood their streets. Even in the unpleasant conditions that marked this past Sunday’s race, the streets were still lined with supporters.

This year, however, I was struck by something else I did not wholly expect. Reflecting on marathon weekend, I could not help but note how often I found myself proud to be affiliated with Rice University.

It is a strange sensation to have after participating in an event in which Rice is not institutionally involved. Yet in small but meaningful ways, it became clear that Houston’s great running event and great research university are indirectly intertwined.

There were the accomplishments of Rice-affiliated runners. For example, traversing the Houston course once again was Rice alumnus Jack Lippincott (Baker ’70), who in 5 hours, 54 minutes completed his 39th consecutive Houston Marathon, more consecutive Houston Marathons than any individual ever. Meanwhile, on the other end of the experience spectrum sat the smiles and stories of classmates and friends who had left the hedges to complete their first full or half marathon.

There were the Rice-organized supporters, most notably the Marching Owl Band, which, fedoras firmly in place, had members gathered along the Outer Loop to lend musical encouragement to those passing by.

There were those with miscellaneous connections to the university. All around the course flashed the familiar faces of a masters running group (a designation for those competitors past their athletic prime) that often trains at Rice’s track. The weekend also featured various conversations with fellow volunteers whose sons or daughters or friends had graduated from Rice (one of whom was proud to know that no matter what the time, Hanszen College still sucks).

And it would be remiss not to note Rice’s contribution to the media coverage. Sitting in the TV booth fully clad in Rice gear was men’s track and field Head Coach Jon Warren, adding expert commentary and becoming a face for Rice University to households across the area who tuned in to ABC 13’s coverage.

The experience served not only as an example of the ways Rice is subtly connected to Houston, but also as a reminder of the opportunity and responsibility our university has to positively impact the city it calls home.

It is a responsibility and opportunity that touches all parts of campus, from our researchers to our community service groups to our athletic department. Moreover, it should manifest itself both in formal ways, with events like Outreach Day, and informal ways, in which those of us fortunate enough to work or study at Rice use what we learn to make a difference outside of it.

There exist numerous examples of Rice responding to this opportunity, from Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research Stephen Klineberg’s Houston Community Survey to the construction of the new continuing studies building, the D. Kent and Linda C Anderson and Robert L. and Jean T. Clarke Center, to the youth teams that attend Rice games. But as we enter our second century, it would be a grave error to rest on those laurels.

Rice strives, as it should, to be a place that changes the world. However, as part of that pursuit, it must devote itself to changing the smaller world in which it resides.

Ten thousand stories should not just pass by Rice — at least some of them should be transformed by it.

– Gabe Cuadra is a Will Rice senior.

Editor’s note: To see a video about Rice students in this year’s Houston Marathon, click here.

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