On Running: Life is a hard race

Joe Bell was watching the 408K Race to the Row in San Jose, California, a race that benefits the Tillman Foundation.

After 9-11, Pat Tillman left a promising NFL career to serve in our military, later becoming the most publicized casualty from the war in Afghanistan. After his death, his family and friends created the Tillman Foundation to offer educational scholarships to military veterans and their spouses. The Race to the Row raises funds for the foundation.

Joe Bell is a 95-year old veteran of World War II. Before heading outside his front door to cheer for the runners, he put on his old uniform, corporal patch still in tact.

It was the same uniform he wore when he trained paratroopers for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, something Bell speaks of with modesty.

"I was a jumper in the OSS, that's all," he told a reporter.

But that's not all, at least not to the runners who noticed Bell cheering from the sidewalk. One by one at first, and then later in masses, they began cheering for him.

The event was captured on film by Bell's neighbor, who happens to be a reporter for the Mercury News.

You can find the video online and watch as runners move over to shake Bell's hand. He seems overwhelmed by the mass of kind gestures. Later, he said simply that he likes to see "people loving each other."

Hardship has a unique way of bringing out the best in people. The death of an NFL star led to the formation of a worthy charity, which led to the creation of a celebrated community event, which lured an ailing veteran to cheer for passing runners, which caused a crowd to celebrate a forgotten hero.

For a brief time, along a sidewalk in San Jose, there was a rare example of mutual gratitude, a moment when Bell and the passing strangers were all aware of an interconnection.

As much as I wish this was a common story, it isn't.

In fact, in all my years of living, the only place I've seen people cheer for strangers - heartfelt, cow-bell type cheers - is on a race course.

Sometimes, in the final stages of a race, some runners are losing the mental battle that comes with the physical struggle.

But the spectators applaud, compliment and reassure them.

"You can do this," they promise.

Life is a hard race, too. It will test every measure of endurance you have.

There are no spectators along the course, no cheering crowds. We each run our own race privately, thinking that our course is harder than everyone else's. Perhaps it is, perhaps not.

Regardless, one of the best ways to ease your own path, is to sooth someone else's.

Joe Bell thought he would offer a small gesture of support to passing strangers, and it came back to him a thousand times. And that, Bell would say, is loving each other.