Essie Garrett

Always on the Run

She ran the race, collected a $50 prize that she donated to the Friends of Emily Griffith--and discovered her central passion. Ultra-distance races were everything the neighborhood 5K was not, though it was the neighborhood that was first treated to the sight of Essie out on one of her endless training runs.

"Naturally, I didn't know what Gore-Tex was," she recalls, "so I ran all year through Five Points in all these sweats topped with plastic bags. In the spring, when I began to shed layers, an old man stopped me to say, 'Baby, you sure have lost weight.' The old ladies were out on that porch screaming, 'Girl, I read where your uterus will fall out if you keep that up.'"

By the time Essie discovered Gore-Tex and the kind of running shoes that can't be purchased at Target, she was running in events like the Sri Chinmoy 700-mile race in New York City, which took twelve days to run and left her "limping along with ice packed around my shins, oatmeal all over my chest, Desitin running down my leg, in a trance. And people would yell things at me, like looking good! And you know, you are in such a state of insanity at that point, you believe them?"

Essie stops laughing long enough to answer the phone.
"Refrigeration, Essie speaking...In what way doesn't the washing machine work? Mmm-hmm. You see, the pulley is out of line. That's what happens when you change the belt. Mmm-hmm. And you need to search for the truth. Okay. Bye."

The next call, barely a minute later, covers a free dryer for the homeless, ill-fitting false teeth and the meaning of life. Next comes a request that a video crew be allowed to visit Essie at work in connection with yet another award for which she's being considered.

"But we can't do that," she says mildly. "A lot of our students are hiding from their wives. They don't pay child support or something, you know? I can't do that to them."

And now the daily stream of visitors begins--divided almost equally between those who have arcane appliance concerns and those who come to bat around a little philosophy. These people are doctors and lawyers and unemployed homeless gadabouts and fellow workers and boardmembers and runners and janitors and elected representatives. Today, two of the subjects under discussion are the situation in Northern Ireland and the Holocaust, about which Essie concludes, "I am always interested that people will understand about Adolf Hitler but they don't wanna hear about Idi Amin. Every race has its nasty people, though."

Occasionally, someone will need a phone number or a referral, which Essie usually provides on a scribbled scrap retrieved from the hopeless warren of her desk-drawer filing system. When she is finally left alone, she leans back in her chair, dreaming with her eyes shut.

About what?
"How to make it more challenging," she decides. "How to run from here to Wyoming backwards, say. People ask me, 'What if you couldn't run anymore?' I simply say, 'I will get me a wheelchair.' Because there is something about this mind/body in motion that works for me. It is amazing, when you think about it," she says. "It's amazing, if you keep going forward, the journeys you can make.

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