The heat was unbearable. Heat sweltered the crowd and melted the runners. They were here to run the marathon, and not just any marathon. It was the Olympic Marathon, held in St. Louis in 1904.
But it wasn’t just the heat that made this day different, it was those on the starting line of that marathon. Of course all sorts of countries sent runners, but most of them had backers. Felix Caracal did not. He had to quit his postal job in Cuba and beg on the streets of Havana to get the money to travel. Finally, he collected enough money to take a boat to New Orleans. On the way, he lost all his money in a dice game.
When he arrived he hitched rides to St Lous where he arrived hungry and in rags. Members of the American team befriended him and gave him some food and a place to sleep. He had no running clothes and no running shoes, only heavy street shoes. Nevertheless, he cut off his pants above the knees and there he was at the starting line, street shoes and all when the day for the race arrived.
The gun sounded and the race began. The heat worked to Felix’s advantage. Being from Cuba, he was used to it. One by one, many of the other runners collapsed. In fact, of the 31 who began the race, only 14 finisned. Felix, however, being from Cuba, thought nothing of the blistering conditions. With only two miles to go, Felix had a huge lead. He was running alongside an orchard and he spotted some apples and stopped to eat some of them. They were green, and soon he was stricken with severe stomach cramps. He lost the lead, though he did come in fourth, doubled-over with pain. He went from fame to fourth because of his hunger for apples. He knew how to start and he knew how to run, he just didn’t know how to finish. He missed his opportunity for greatness.