Some will be running the Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday because it is there, because it is supposed to be one of those only in L.A. happenings, because somebody told them they had to be kidding at their age, or because they could use a new Mercedes and $15,000 cash.
And somewhere in this bobbing sea of 19,000 running shorts will be Roy Wiseman, striding forward for a far more personal cause: Martin Campos and his brother, Salvador. The teen-age brothers, too, will be running as if their very lives depended upon it, which in a way, is true.
For them, this marathon is not just a footrace. It is a glorious new proving ground, one that, a few years ago, they never dreamed they would enter. That was before they met Roy, the guy they love to call "Chief." He has shown them that ignorance corrupts, that barriers of race and class need not imprison hope.
Wiseman, who is black, is a successful engineer who remembers dining by candlelight as a child--because his parents couldn't pay their electric bill. His father was a welder, his mother cleaned other people's homes. He is the only one in his family to go to college, at Ohio's Kent State.
The Campos brothers emigrated from El Salvador a decade ago. Now their father, a plumber, heads to a Pasadena street corner every day in search of odd jobs. Their mother put herself through beauty school with the money she earned cleaning offices at night. Today she cuts hair at the beauty salon of a department store.
So what are a few blisters among friends? These guys will be running the marathon because sometimes, physical pain is balm for the soul.
"One of my friends said, 'You're not going to make it, you're going to go splat. You're going to die,' " said Martin, a sixth-grader who is 13 years old. "Then I go, 'Nah. I can make it. I already did 21 miles.' "
And that run was with Roy, of course. Wiseman, 40, pulled the same psychological tricks on Salvador two years ago when he was 14. The two set out at the start of the 1992 Los Angeles Marathon together, but after 18 miles, Wiseman shot ahead.
"He left me on Wilshire! But I went on because I wanted to catch him. When I finished, it was bad, it was fresh!" Salvador said with pride. "And when I was running, people would say, 'Look at that little kid running!' I felt good because I was doing something that other people can't do."
After pounding his way through more than a dozen Los Angeles neighborhoods, Salvador finished the 26.2-mile course in three hours and 42 minutes. It was the first time he had ever attempted such a monumental task.
The course record, set by Mexico's Martin Mondragon in 1988, is two hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds, although a marathon spokeswoman said most people take four to five hours. Some literally take all day. The race starts at 8:40 a.m.
This year Salvador figures he and first-timer Martin should make it across the finish line outside the Coliseum in under four hours. "And my time next year is going to be three," he said.
Running, however, is simply a metaphor that has echoed through Wiseman's attempts to do some good for youngsters who seemed to be throwing away their chances for success. He recalls that the first time Salvador visited him--and was awed by the technical wizardry of his garage door opener--the boy begged never to be sent home.
The boys' father says he was drinking heavily then. Their mother, Maria, says the constant tension in their home was taking its toll on everyone, including her. Her sons did not bother with their schoolwork. At home, peace meant watching TV.
Wiseman met Salvador after his employer, Allied Signal Technical Services--a contractor to Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory--"adopted" Wilson Junior High School, where Salvador was then in the sixth grade.
Wiseman offered to tutor youngsters whom the principal had singled out for special help, and Salvador was one of four boys that Wiseman was assigned. Every Tuesday he visited the school.
Back then, Salvador says, his short temper and stubbornness always entangled him in fights. There was always some issue he believed had to be settled with force. "I liked to intimidate people," Salvador said. "That would make me feel good."
This is the opposite of what Wiseman is about. Violence has no place in his world; he finds his drama in sports. He climbs rocks, dives under water and through the sky, pilots airplanes and pedals bikes. Marathons, for him, are no big deal. His quiet and deliberate manner strongly suggests to his young friends that machismo does not make a man.
In the classroom, Wiseman talked to the youngsters as their friend, and he listened to them even more. A single man, he has no children of his own.
Then at the end of the school year, Wiseman suggested that his group take a celebratory camping trip. But only Salvador's parents showed up for the informational meeting that Wiseman had planned. So instead, Wiseman took Salvador and some of his friends to Disneyland.