The 22nd mile is tough in any marathon. Grim, even. In Baltimore’s annual death march, err, marathon, it leads uphill to Guilford and 30th Street, which is why Nate Sweeney and Peggy O’Leary are standing on their car, in full-body tiger costumes, madly cheering and encouraging runners while blasting Survivor’s epic “Eye of the Tiger,” theme to Rocky III.
“Risin' up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance
Now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive”
You got it!” “You look great!” “Ok, let’s go! “Start it up!,” Sweeney and O’Leary shout out to runners, who can’t help but break into smiles. A few, forced to walk up the end of the hill, begin jogging again.
Sometimes you laugh to avoid crying, right?
It started 10 years ago, in Milwaukee, actually, where Sweeney and some buddies went to cheer for a friend running in a marathon there. Sweeney brought his boom box, put in “Eye of the Tiger” and set it on repeat for six hours.
The next year, he brought the boom box to the Baltimore Marathon course and O’Leary, who happened to be readying a tiger costume for Halloween (Roy of Siegfried & Roy had just been bitten by a tiger and another friend was dressing as the circus animal trainer), joined him in Charles Village.
Now, they’re one of the annual attractions.
“The best part is motivating people that walked up the hill to start running again,” said Sweeney, a nurse administrator. Asked to confirm that the race is downhill the rest of the way, he responded, “I hope so — that’s what we’ve been telling everyone.”
O’Leary says she doesn’t mind listening to the “Eye of the Tiger” all day, but joked that she feels bad for the cop stationed on their corner.
A Hopkins nurse, O’Leary could potentially assist a runner who falls ill on the hill up Guilford, but "no has ever collapsed," she said.
(According to the Baltimore Marathon's website, Kenya's Stephen Muange won his second straight Bmore marathon and Pat Kim, of Ellicott City, won the women's side.)