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Victory doesn’t always mean a win

Charley and Calvin Williams cross the finish line at the Rock n' Roll Marathon.

Having spent 10 years in preparation, a 60-year-old father and his 24-year-old daughter achieved their ultimate goal in completing the New Orleans Rock ‘n Roll Marathon together, crossing the finish line with clasped hands and arms held high in victory. They didn’t win the race, but they conquered the 26.2-mile course, their first full marathon.

Calvin Williams, a businessman from Texarkana, Texas, and his daughter, Charley, a senior law student from Little Rock, Arkansas, began running when Charley was a teenager. The father found the activity both healthful and a beneficial vehicle for bonding with the teen.

Although few of even the elder Williams’ closest friends knew just how seriously his running had become, his pursuit of it was intense. He regularly ran with Charley in the early morning hours before work and school, and after Charley went away to school, he continued to quietly lengthen his range. They ran several half-marathons together in Texarkana, Memphis, and in Little Rock, where Charley had placed third in her age bracket.

It was last summer that they decided it was time to pursue a loftier goal, a full 26.2-mile marathon. They considered several venues, finally selecting New Orleans for its flat terrain — an important consideration for the 60-year-old.

Charley sealed the deal, presenting Dad with a gift of his paid entry in the New Orleans Rock’n Roll Marathon on his birthday last October. She would join him for the greatest challenge either had faced. Game on!

Thus began four months of preparation. Several times a week they would run 6 to 10 miles during the week, and 18 to 20 miles on the weekend, each in their home cities, a team separated by distance, but joined in spirit.

Runners are inspired by challenge, knowing that their chances of winning in a field of thousands of participants are miniscule. It is the challenge of personal accomplishment.

“You’re competing with yourself,” Charley explained. It is the push beyond normal human constraint that summons up the burst of adrenalin-fueled fervor that drives the sport. There is no failure, only the sharpened understanding of one’s self.

With a starting time of 7 a.m. on race day, father and daughter stepped up to the starting line in a city not well known to them, the sun peeking between the tall buildings along Poydras Street. There was a festive atmosphere, with music playing, crowds milling about chattering, and a tingle of excitement that only the runners themselves can experience.

And they’re off and running! A hoard of participants en masse flooded the street, chatting among themselves, and glancing out to enjoy the charming scenes that only New Orleans can provide.

As the scenery changed along the way, a few aches and pains came and then went away. Turning away from Lake Pontchartrain at the 20-mile marker, it was becoming clear that a successful conclusion was coming closer to their reach; 6.2 miles remained, but it seemed downhill the rest of the way.

Both exhausted and exhilarated, Dad and daughter crossed the finish line together to mark their personal victory, the quest of a decade fulfilled.

The next race in New Orleans arrives with The Times-Picayune Crescent City Classic., which begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Decatur and St. Peter streets. Although Charley and her dad won’t be among the starters, there will be plenty of other first-timers who are putting their stamina and determination to the test.

Ned Cheever lives in Texas, but his heart belongs to New Orleans. The frequent visitor writes essays for NolaVie. Read his blog at


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