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Running to Live

SEPTEMBER 21, 2010

As a few friends and family  know, I am a runner.  I love it.  At the end of 2009 I had an unusually sore hip leading into the New York City Marathon.  That ended up becoming a painful limp after the marathon and it turns out I had torn my hip labrum.  My running was over for a while and I was in physical therapy for 5 months.  Everything is relative, but when I think of my story now I am humbled by an intense respect and admiration for the remarkable Matt Long.  I followed the story of Matt, A New York City Firefighter,  from the pages of the New York daily newspapers and in Runner's World.  Recently I was asked by Kory Kennedy to illustrate and article about the amazing Matt Long as they were previewing his new book.  I also have a link to his story here...
For those who don't know Matt Long's story, he was biking to the FDNY Academy on Randalls Island on the morning of Dec. 23, 2005, when he was crushed by a charter bus that made an illegal right turn on E. 52nd St.
His injuries were catastrophic: a shattered pelvis, a broken leg, a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder and massive internal bleeding.  It took nearly a month for Long to regain consciousness. He dropped more than 50 pounds from his 180-pound frame while confined to a hospital bed.  A lifelong athlete, he was determined to run again.  This was while his doctors doubted he would ever walk without a cane.  Matt was going to run again through all the intense physical pain and to regain the life he once had. He taught himself to walk again and, a mere three years later, to run in the 2008 New York City Marathon—a gimpy seven-and-a-half hour journey through the five boroughs.  I remember seeing him.
Being asked to paint someone's portrait is always fun and interesting, but when I find myself attached to the subject in some way I can get stuck.  As I recall it, Kory asked me to try to incorporate the stretching device Matt used to get back to running.  This rack is something steps into and uses the various levels of bars in the device to gain a greater range of movement out of tight muscles.  The device is called the cage.
I thought about that but knew if I were to come in close for a portrait it would not work well.
It reminded me of scaffolding and that is where the idea was born.  A total repair from head to toe.  Part of the book is about his thinking and mind as he struggles to get back out there.  The scaffold worked.
Sketch A. I did a portrait of Mike Tyson in 1988 for the National that was just like this. I think I liked the wide neck of the Tyson piece and worked it into this piece.

Matt Long as a damaged but strong portrait on a plate.

I thought this one worked well.

This is the famous Cage.

In Progress.

I built up the scaffold to fit his head. Luckily they went for this.
Detail of his eye.

Drawing the bars drove me nuts.

The two accompanying spots, something I don't do many of were fun to do.  One is the rejection of the cane and the other image is from a description in Runner's World about Matt's first day back running.  His shoe has a chunk of rubber under it to make it the same length as his other leg.  That view standing just before the run I thought was an iconic image. 

This one was chosen.

Final for the Cane piece

A shot of Matt leaving the Hospital.
a triumphant Matt finishing a race.  The race is an IRONMAN.  Yes, that is almost 17 hours.  Unreal.
I  thought about him quite a bit after doing the illustrations.  My runs and workouts in August and September have been more focused.  Good form, balance, strength and of course diet have made running like flying again.  Starting many months ago I stopped eating anything I wanted to and stopped drinking hootch as much.  I lost about 30 pounds.  Hard work pays off.
As an aside, I want to end this post with a huge thanks to NY SPORTS MED in Manhattan for being so great.  Everyone there is so positive but a special thank you to Krista Simon and Wesley Thorton.  Krista is a physical therapist and found muscles and areas that needed help and when I almost went under the knife, she was extremely helpful in having me take a step back and not do it right away.  I will miss seeing her as much but I know fully well that this 1964 model will need parts and fixes all the time.  Wesley was my trainer and helped me have balance and taught me how to do all these special exercises at home.  As the November 7th NYC Marathon approaches, I'm there because of their help.

Why does a person have to run or compete?  Not everyone does but some do.  I know Matt Long does and it's that need and love of life that made him not only recover but to compete again.  This is all about being alive.  I can do this now and may not be able to years from now.  Live life to the fullest.
Krista Simon
Wes Thorton

A fellow illustrator, John Tomac  is running the NYC marathon after dealing with leukemia since Sepember of 2009.  Click on his name to give him some support.