THE LONG RUN
By Matt Long, with Charles Butler
312 pp. Rodale Books. $15.99.
The phrase “to rest on one’s laurels” is a poor association for Matt Long. Sure, like many, Long’s early background chronicled in “The Long Run” includes the occasional blip of middle age sedentary. Periodically, the former Iona college basketball player has relented to a more comfortable lifestyle. The nicknames “Beer Belly Matty” and “Fatty Long” were earned. However, these episodes don’t define Long for … long. With age forty looming, the future Boston Marathon Qualifier and Iron Man “Matt Long” changes his tune. Meanwhile, Long’s professional resume marks successful longevity as both a bar owner and New York City firefighter. His personal life reflects the values of tight-knit family Catholicism. One of nine kids, Long grows up attending private school, and memories of attending church and fond Christmas gatherings are recounted. From a relationship perspective, Long enjoys his bachelorhood. He maintains he’s on the search for the future Mrs. Long; however, in the meanwhile, he’s perfectly fine with playing the field. It seems Long’s life is moving along splendidly. Until, on December 22, 2005, he gets run over by a bus.
“The Long Run” can be grim. Bleak. Long paints a picture of hopelessness. It’s a nearly effortless task, really, as Long and Butler deftly describe the hardships endured. In December, Long was progressing on his bike, en route to meeting friends for a training stint at a pool. It was freezing outside. Long was relegated to his bike due to an ongoing NYC transit strike. A chartered bus 2 lanes to his left makes a fast and unexpected turn to the right, directly into Long. The outcome’s horrendous. Long’s found underneath the center portion of the bus, behind the front axle. He’d been gored by the bike’s seat post. Personally, the following words were a persistent consideration through to the book’s conclusion, Long was “…open from the base of my penis down to my anus, and my rectum had been torn.”. Also, a broken femur, tibia, and a shattered pelvis. The list of Long’s injuries is endless. In the first two days following the accident, he received 69 units of blood. His doctor’s initial assessment put the survival odds at less than 5%.
It strikes me that some criticism for “The Long Run” assails Long for his descriptions of his athletic prowess and casual dalliances prior to the accident. First, Long does share some bad with that good, making many references for his love of basketball, but more humble ability to play the sport. Regarding his romantic episodes, my interpretation was Long illustrating the young, vibrant NYC lifestyle he relished, and then, in a moment, gone. In it’s place, this person’s forced to carry, at all times, a colostomy bag, constantly filling with bodily waste (associated odor included). The bag was a result of a doctor’s attempt to stop stool from pooling in Long’s pelvis while trying to control the loss of blood. The doctor assessed Long would need it for up to 12 months but, also, he may very well need it permanently. For awhile, the book’s dark tone is attributed to “the bag”. So, indeed, a blistering fall from grace.
Physical and occupational therapy begins 18 days after the accident. The first steps are small. Trying to swallow. Sitting up in bed. Standing. Into May, progress was slow but real. Long begins walking, or more accurately, shuffling. On May 24th, Long, with colostomy bag in tow, checks out of the hospital and returns to his apartment. To assist Long, his younger brother, Eddie, moves in. While rehabilitation continues, depressive episodes settle in. It cannot be understated the many references to Long’s support group called out in “The Long Run”. Family, friends, co-workers, politicians, strangers, etc. This mass of people proves essential in Long’s recovery. Approximately a year after the accident, Long undergoes colostomy takedown surgery (i.e., removing “the bag”). The surgery was expected to take a couple hours but would last 13 due to unanticipated scar tissue. Ultimately, the surgery’s a success (although the preparedness for it and later rehabilitation are better left undescribed).
Long’s outlook brightens. His “shuffle” hastens. While still difficult to describe his pace as “running”, Long begins doing just that, albeit slowly. First, a 17:24 mile. Then, incredibly, nearly 3 years following the accident, Long finishes the New York City Marathon in 7 hours and 21 minutes. Finally, this “new” Matt Long was flourishing once again.
#DidYouKnow courtesy “The Long Run”: Muscles can atrophy without use in as little as a couple weeks. (A good reason to always remain vigilant in prevention of the common cold.)