Among my cherished sports mementos is a bright photo of me running in last year's New York Marathon. I'd like to be able to say that I have my brother Steve to thank for it, but I can't. He does a fine job of photographing sunsets, but the setting sun does not attract screaming fans who block a photographer's view the way marathons do. My brother watched and waited where I told him to, and he missed me.
Alas, I would never know exactly how I looked in my first, and possibly only, marathon—or so it seemed until a morning three weeks later. While I was disposing of that day's junk mail, a magic word caught my eye—Sport—followed by Photo. Curious, I opened the envelope, which contained two different contact prints, and there I was in living color. Sport Photo, it turns out, is a 5-year-old Dallas firm with a brilliant marketing concept: it shoots huge numbers of competitive runners, especially marathoners, gets their mailing addresses by matching the numbers on their shirts with numbers, names and addresses supplied by various race sponsors and makes the athletes an offer that very few are able to refuse.
The New York Road Runners Club, for instance, makes its list of marathon finishers available to the company, and in return Sport Photo pays the club approximately 10% of its gross profits from shooting the race. The 1979 race was the second New York Marathon for Sport Photo, which claims to have cornered 85%-90% of the running photography market. Boston-based Runner's Image, the other official New York Marathon photographer, operates the same way, although in the Big Apple the two companies shoot from different parts of the course.
From my experience, Runner's Image did no better by me than my brother, but I gladly sent $14.95 to Sport Photo for three 5 x 7 color prints and $8.45 for an 8 x 10. The shot I selected was taken near the end of my marathon. I had already been cheered by millions, and soon a strange and beautiful lady would step from the crowd to embrace me. I will carry these images with me always. But there is something to be said for tangibles, too. I know how I looked in my first marathon. My skin was pink from four hours in the sun. My jaw was set, determined. My eyes looked tired. But I finished.
I look at that picture nearly every day and I think that it would have been a bargain at almost any price.