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They Are Inspired by Quake : L.A. Marathon: Despite problems caused by Jan. 17 temblor, four say they will give it their best on Sunday.

March 02, 1994|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The four were pounding toward a single vision when the dark rumblings of Jan. 17 nearly stole everything.

It took their walls. Their furniture. Their memories. Their composure.

But upon sifting through the rubble, they each realized the Northridge earthquake had left something behind:

Their running shoes.

Sunday morning, Dave Callahan is going to fulfill an annual pledge to run in the Los Angeles Marathon even though he has not run anywhere since the morning of Jan. 17.

That is when he sprinted from the window of his Northridge apartment and directly onto a parking lot that used to be 15 feet below.

Les Spitza is going to keep his promise by walking in the marathon with disabled friends, even though the only place he has walked recently is to the refrigerator.

Stress eating, he said. Fifteen added pounds in six weeks, he figures. Something about compensating for the discomfort of spending 10 days in his front yard in a tent.

Sandy Jett told herself last summer she would run in the marathon, and so she will. But she said friends waiting for her at the finish line will be carrying a stretcher.

Those are some of the same friends who have helped her endure life in a tarpaulin-covered house, where the earthquake was followed by a flood.

Juanesta Holmes vowed to run her first marathon when she turned 30, and she's been 30 for five months, so she's not quitting, either.

She simply never dreamed she would be running without a home address or phone or any trace of the calmness required to complete 26.2 miles.

Their friends say they are foolish. Their sensibilities tell them to think about it. Their bodies cry for more time.

But these four, like dozens of others from earthquake-ravaged areas, will line up at the Coliseum Sunday morning to complete what they have started.

For them, a race which once was frivolity has become necessity. They need the Los Angeles Marathon to convince them of what nobody else can.

That life goes on.

When asked if they had considered dropping out, their answers were polite, but short. Typical was the response of Callahan. He needed three words:

"No, no, no."

*

To understand the dozens who will run in the ninth annual marathon despite suffering tremendous losses in the recent disaster, it helps to understand those who will not run.

Randy Green is a 40-year-old real estate executive. He owns his own company. He has run in four previous marathons, including Boston.

He is disciplined enough to awaken at 4 a.m. every day to train. He had paid his $25 entry fee. His runner's bib was in the mail.

Then one morning two weeks after the quake, running at 4:30 a.m., at a dark corner near his Northridge home, he stopped. "I said, 'I'm done,' " Green recalled. "I decided, no marathon this year."

He was exhausted from trying to sleep with the television set blaring. After the quake, his frightened wife would not sleep any other way.

He was exhausted from living for 10 days without running water.

He was sluggish from gaining 10 pounds after eating boxes of the only thing that tasted good while their refrigerator was inoperable--dinosaur cookies.

He was exhausted from handling more than $50 million in escrowed real estate that had been affected in the quake.

"If I couldn't do my best, and I know I couldn't, then I didn't want to run at all," Green said. "Other people can do that, but not me."

*

If a model runner like Green drops out, what chance does a 37-year-old rookie like Sandy Jett have?

Her entire running resume consists of one 5K, and she's already decided she will have to walk part of the marathon course.

She recently saw a marathon commercial on television and said nervously, "Oh, God."

But faced with an impending divorce last summer, she decided she could only handle the stress by running through it. And those runs, she vowed then, would culminate Sunday.

"Everybody thinks I'm crazy, they all say I'm never going to make it," Jett said. "But if I have to crawl, I'm making it. If it takes me two days, I'm making it."

For those such as Green, and there are several, marathon organizers have agreed to refund their entry fee and grant them free entry into the race-day 5K.

For those such as Jett, psychologists say their reward will come after the race.

"After a natural disaster, you lose control of so many things," said Dr. Eric Denson, sports psychologist at the University of Delaware. "By sticking with a marathon, these people are proving to themselves that they still have control over something. This feeling is very important."

*

Dave Callahan, a dialysis technician, thinks about control every time he climbs into his rented Chevrolet.

His own car, a 1987 royal blue Camaro he treated like a child, remains crushed under the rubble of his apartment building.

Considering that he lived across the parking lot from the deadly Northridge Meadows apartment complex, he considers himself lucky.

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