God on the Starting Line: The Triumph of a Catholic School Running Team and Its Jewish Coach

Breakaway Books  2004

 

Serious cross-country running seems to appeal solely to ascetics and ectomorphs. Reading about cross-country running maybe expected to have even less appeal, which is why Marc Bloom’s God On The Starting Line proved to be such a pleasant surprise.

This is only incidentally a book about running. Bloom is a runner and a coach, but although there are the usual statistics about splits and workouts of “5 x 1100 meters around the lake,” this is a love story. Bloom is a talented journalist, but in his heart he is a teacher-coach, and this is what captures the reader’s attention.

Responding to a desire to coach, Bloom takes the only job he can get, that of cross-country coach at St. Rose, a small Catholic high school at the New Jersey shore. Here, he weds his Jewish faith and his belief in tikkun olam, repairing the world, to the Catholic environment in which he finds himself. He rationalizes that he will separate Catholic from coaching, little realizing that he will enter a spiritual quest that merges the two and brings him in even closer touch with Judaism.

Bloom’s team becomes state champions, but the lesson his runners learn is more about “fulfilling their potential and traveling the path to good citizenship.” He shares with the reader the excitement of teaching young people, of “tickling their souls” until they commit to success. His team learns the difference between working to succeed and feeling that they are entitled to succeed. Bloom reinforces their Christian values with his own Jewish ones as he discovers the shared touchstones of the two faiths.

God On The Starting Line is at its core a spiritual book. It will inspire the reader who values small works of goodness and the courage to face big challenges.



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