Dublin Marathon

Early in the morning on October 25th, I hopped into a taxi and rode towards St. Stephen’s Green to see hundreds of runners gravitate towards Merrion Square Park, the location for both the beginning and end of Dublin’s annual marathon. I walked onto the crowded street where everyone else seemed to know exactly where they were headed. I followed and heard several languages being spoken around me. In the forty degree (Fahrenheit) weather, I stretched, jogged, and observed those around me who seemed to be mentally preparing for the 26.2 miles ahead of us. In my minimal singlet and running shorts, while applying petroleum jelly all over my feet to prevent blistering, I looked over in envy at a man dressed up in a full, head-to-toe, Buzz Lightyear outfit – he must be happily warm – equally warm and hilarious.

There seemed to be individuals from every country and continent. From teenagers to elderly women, each age group seemed well represented. A handful of people around me were running the marathon for charity, while others appeared to run in their silly and entertaining costumes. In this eclectic mix of people, what unified all of us was our desire to feel like jelly for a week. We are all determined masochists, and our means of self-degradation was running. As the race began, after the first mile, I could already feel myself gradually losing feeling in my legs – fantastic.

Typically, long runs allow me to over-analyze, reevaluate, and better understand or sometimes misunderstand what is happening in my life. While running through the beautiful and green Phoenix Park, with the image of runners frantically finding a tree for relief, I knew that day-dreaming and reflecting would be a good strategy to forget about what made my left cheek feel uncomfortably more solidified than my right cheek. Almost two months have passed since I first landed in Dublin, and I have been gradually getting to know the eight other Mitchell Scholars who are placed all throughout the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We represent most corners of the United States, and we create a unified tapestry from the various opportunities that have allowed each of us to mature and better understand the world around us. My living and learning at University College Dublin is another opportunity for me to fully humanize Ireland by developing the close relationships that will put a face to the name. There were hundreds of people: my family, friends, professors, advisors, and mentors, who have shaped my once-limited worldview and provided the platform for me to develop new ideas and new passions. This experience in Ireland will be another significant experience that I hope will spark other unknown passions and allow me to thoroughly learn about the life experiences of many Irish friends as well as those of the Mitchell Scholars.

Leaving the United States for the first time and living abroad last year in Vietnam made me realize for the first time in my life, how American I felt. It allowed me to understand that an incredibly active and dynamic world existed outside of our borders. I am gradually learning more about how the Irish people and culture fit into this globally connected network. And despite their current economic problems, hope for the long-term future seems to continue to exist.

After four hours of continuous running, I was back in the city center ambling around Trinity College’s campus. Dubliners and international visitors lined the sidewalks and were cheering all the runners on. After I crossed the finish the line, I could only shuffle awkwardly from one point to another. This was the completion of my first marathon, and it was certainly well worth the work. For the following week, with swollen ankles and weak knees, I would take twice as long to walk anywhere, but the pain was a gentle reminder of how enjoyable the race was. I cannot wait for the next one.

About Yongjun Heo - University College Dublin

Upon graduating in 2009 from Swarthmore with a double major in Biology and Public Policy, Yongjun worked at the Institute for Population and Development Studies in Hanoi, Vietnam as a Luce Scholar. After his second year at Swarthmore, he traveled to Venezuela to assist a physician at a medical clinic in the Pemon indigenous villages of Uriman. His experiences led to his founding Pemon Health Inc., a public health organization committed to improving the health of the Pemon people through a college internship program that focuses on preventive measures to combat the causes of adverse health conditions. Yongjun has been awarded grants from the Clinton Global Initiative, Wal-mart Foundation, Project Pericles Foundation, and Swarthmore College. At the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative meeting, he was awarded a Clinton Global Initiative University Outstanding Commitment Award by President Clinton. In his final year at Swarthmore, he served as the Student Body President. He was also a four-year sprinter for the Men’s Varsity Track and Field team. Yongjun concluded his MPH program in the summer of 2011 and received his degree in December. He lives in San Francisco and Indianapolis where he manages Midwest Design Lab, a web design and development company.
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