Rocky VI (a/k/a “Rocky Balboa”) starts with our hero now 58 years old (an age I once thought was really old, but now not so much). Rocky is obviously too old to climb into the ring with younger fighters, but he believes he still has “some stuff in the basement.” Nobody else believes him; not his son Robert (“Don’t you think you’re a little, you know, old?”), not his brother-in-law Paulie, and (at least initially) not the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission, which refuses Rocky a boxing license because of his advanced age.
Mark Knopfler’s second solo album after leaving the Dire Straits features the truly excellent song “Sailing to Philadelphia,” a duet with James Taylor about the two surveyors who drew the PA/MD/DE boundary line – Mason and Dixon. Thus, it makes perfect sense in Rocky VI that the current heavyweight champion is Mason "The Line" Dixon. For reasons of his own, Dixon challenges Rocky to a charity boxing exhibition in Las Vegas which, against all logic, 58 year-old Rocky accepts.
Rocky’s head trainer is once again Tony “Duke” Evers. In some classic dialog, Duke outline’s Rocky’s problem in trying to fight the younger champion Dixon:
“To beat this guy, you need speed - you don't have it. And your knees can't take the pounding, so hard running is out. And you got arthritis in your neck, and you've got calcium deposits on most of your joints, so sparring is out.”
But Rocky still has one advantage, as the now-adult friend Marie tells him when things look bad: “The last thing to age on somebody is their heart.”
In the fight in Vegas, things don’t go so well for the 58 year-old Rocky. In the final round, a Dixon punch sends Rocky to one knee, and the match is surely over. But wait! Rocky somehow finds the strength to continue, and Dixon is visibly stunned at our former champion’s determination.
Mason 'The Line' Dixon: “You are one crazy old man.”
Rocky: “You'll get there.”
Saturday was the sixth Rocky 50k run. Like the final boxing match with Dixon in Rocky VI, this was not an official or sanctioned run of any kind. The basic idea is that a bunch of people show up at Wolf and Lambert St. in South Philly (Rocky’s home in Rocky II), and recreate the training montage from Rocky II. A wide variety of people, many dressed in sweats and wearing a classic red sweatband, follow the movie montage scenes in order, from the stoop of Rocky's house, to the rail tracks on Lehigh Avenue, to the Italian Market, to the B Street Bridge (where a dozen kids join Rocky for the rest of his run), to the Kelly Drive path on the Schuylkill River, to Chestnut St., to hurtling the benches behind Independence Hall, up the Parkway, to his conclusion atop the Art Museum steps. And for the sixth year in a row, that is what about 90+ plus people did, inspired by the September 18, 2013 article by Dan McQuade in Philadelphia Magazine (much funnier than my write-up; this Philly Mag article with imbedded video is the script for this “Rocky 50K”.
I was joined by my niece Rachel S. and Jesse H. (new to his job in Wilmington, and a big Rocky fan), both born well after Rocky IV came out. After posing on the steps of Rocky’s house at 2313 South Lambert St. in South Philly, Rachel joined me in fueling up by downing a raw egg before we started running. On Lehigh Ave, we were joined by Richard M., a seriously good runner, sub-three hour marathoner, who put on his red sweatband for the sixth year in a row, joining us for the comradery and oddball Rocky movie sites tour de foot (certainly not the speed).
We detoured off the Rocky II training montage to visit Rocky’s house from the original movie, at 1818 Tusculum St. As Rocky commented in Rocky VI when he visits Marie: “I think the neighborhood’s changin’ a little.”
Good news: Running under the railroad bridge on Kensington Ave. we didn’t encounter all the drug addicts we had to run through last year, as they must have been scattered by the city in response to a recent unflattering feature article in the New York Times.
Bad news: later, while running on Tusculum St. after crossing the B St. Bridge, just a couple of blocks from Kensington Ave, we saw a guy on the curb sticking a needle in his arm. We didn’t stop for a selfie . . . .
Back in Center City at mile 10, we did a non-montage move, and ran the little-known and little used (and slightly smelly) underground SEPTA concourse from 15th & Market to Broad & Spruce. After we ran up the steps into the sunlight, who was coming the other way? None other than friend and Philly resident Jessica Z. out for a morning run. Even though she didn’t have a red sweatband, we turned her around and she ran with us for the next 16 miles, until Jessica was forced to hail a cab at the end of the Kelly Drive and get home for some promised Christmas tree shopping.
I was easily the oldest person in this crowd of mostly millennials, and probably one of the few even alive when the first Rocky movie came out in 1976. Like our hero in Rocky VI, “speed - you don't have it.” So like Rocky VI, to stay in the ring for all 10 rounds (a/k/a 32 miles), I had to rely on my knowledge of the route through the Philly neighborhoods, insist on stopping for pictures at all Rocky movie sites (even if not from Rocky II), and visit a McDonalds for an evidently unsanitary refill of water jugs from the soda fountain.
Every Rocky movie ends with our hero climbing the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum -- sometimes solo, but in Rocky II with a crowd of kids. Rocky VI ends with an inspirational montage of common people celebrating their own journey’s end up the steps. This year, we again “went the distance” for our 32.2 mile Rocky run around Philadelphia (6:26 total time, 5:22 moving time). As I slowly, so slowly, lumbered up those final famous steps, I looked around and saw all the people who are always running or walking these same steps at all times day and night, and was reminded of our hero’s words to his son in the best known dialog of Rocky VI: “But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning [or in Rocky’s case in Rocky I and VI, just going the distance] is done!” And after a cab ride to Philips in South Philly, Rachel and I showed how eating a hot, post-run cheesesteak is done.
(link to route: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29942806)