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Don’t Just Stand There

June 23, 2011 Fear, Fitness 9 Comments

Today’s workout included my longest run prior to the race on July 30 — I needed to run 11.5 miles. I already had plans to be in San Francisco for a meeting, so I figured I’d do the long run there for a change in venue.

I love running along the water in San Francisco! The Marina Green, Crissy Field, The Presidio… and of course THE BRIDGE!

I’ve never actually run across the bridge. I’ve biked and driven over it too many times to count… but never made the trek on foot. Today was the day! It was relatively nice weather (very windy over the water, but not cold and foggy) and it would be a good way to add mileage without going too far out of my way.

Do you know how long the expanse is? *leave a comment!

The most treacherous thing about crossing the bridge is navigating the tourists! I don’t have a whole lot of patience for people who are oblivious to others around them and space they are taking up. Making it worse — erratic behavior is just plain dangerous when you’ve got pedestrians, cyclists, and workers trying to use the same narrow path.


But, it was a weekday morning, so I went for it. The trip to the Marin County side was worse because all the tourists were huddled on the Bay side of the bridge taking photos. The return trip wasn’t so bad as long as I stayed all the way to the right and gave plenty of advance notice I was coming; sudden movements by the tourists are the worst.

I made it to the second tower on the way back and noticed a young policeman kind of “standing guard” there. He had been looking over the railing on the north side of the tower on the trip out and I thought to myself, “I wonder if someone jumped!” But I dismissed it because there are also painting crews working on the bridge and he could have been doing anything. Your mind will wander like that 7 miles into an 11.5 mile run…

I kept going and the crowd along the pathway had thinned out entirely. I noticed this because it was so blissful to have a long expanse all to myself. It was just me and one other guy who was minding his own business. I was really getting into a great stride!

As I approached this lone guy, I watched him put both hands on the railing and hike one leg up, making the move to climb over it. I stopped running and stared at him. I was totally dumbstruck. He hadn’t looked around like he was trying to make sure no one saw him, so I questioned his motives. I had about a thousand thoughts in the space of three seconds:

“Is he really jumping?”

“This must be a joke, right? He’s just playing around.”

“I bet he dropped something and is just going to retrieve it.”

“No, I think he’s jumping. Areyoufuckingkiddingme?”

“Maybe he’s a construction worker. He’s kind of dressed like a worker.”

“Should I call out to him?”

“If I call out to him and he’s not jumping — what if he’s crazy and comes after me.”

“And what if I call out to him and he still jumps? I don’t know if I can handle that kind of pressure.”

“Where the hell is that cop/guard dude?”

AND THEN HE JUMPED!!

While I just stood there. By this point, there were a few tourists who had passed and they turned around and were taking photos of the jumper (see what I mean about tourists??). I’m sure they also got me with my mouth hanging wide open…

What I didn’t know at the time is this: there’s a narrow platform under the edge of the railing. A person doesn’t just plunge immediately to his/her death once you’re over the railing. There’s a “grace period” of sorts. The below is a stock photo of the bridge that shows the narrow ledge just below the railing (the net has been added graphically to show the proposed solution for suicides — it IS NOT there now):

By this time, the policeman was running up to the scene shouting, “No! Don’t do it!” Another man was with him, though he was dressed in construction-like clothes (not in a uniform). Me? I continued to stand there, paralyzed with disbelief. The men were exchanging words with the jumper and the worker-looking guy pulled something out of his pocket — a tin of chewing tobacco. Maybe the jumper had asked for a cigarette? The cop was looking around, very unsure of himself and the situation. I made eye contact with him and asked if I could help, gesturing to my phone. He said no and motioned for me to keep going.

Of course, part of me wanted to stay and watch this tragedy unfold… I suppose this is human nature. Most of me was still in utter disbelief that it had happened at all — and mostly that I had done nothing to stop him. Now that I am home with the world at my fingertips, I have read about would-be jumpers who went out to the bridge saying to themselves, “If one person notices me and asks if they can help, I won’t do it.”

You can imagine how I feel.

But the reality is this: it isn’t about me. This man felt he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, and it was a burden he could no longer carry. He almost jumped to his death right in front of me and only me AND I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

I make this promise to you, fellow man/woman/child/tourist: I will do better next time. If I am placed in a situation where I am questioning my ability to help, I will at least try. Perhaps it will do no good, but I will not let you harm yourself or anyone else while I stand idle.

Epilogue
I don’t know if this man was talked back from the ledge or if he ultimately jumped. My last four miles included running to Hooper’s Hands, and kept my eye on that part of the bridge the whole way, though I saw nothing one way or the other. News reports are generally very scarce on bridge jumps, as not to sensationalize them. I will let you know if I find out one way or another.

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Currently there are "9 comments" on this Article:

  1. Caryn says:

    WTF?? I think you reacted like 99.9% of the people would. At least you reacted how I would of. You aren’t trained for this type of situation and it came about so unexpectedly. So maybe you aren’t a super hero like you had dreamed of but don’t put that much pressure on yourself. Had he really wanted help why didn’t he pick a location where more people were around and increase his odds? Had he expected you to stop him that’s a bit unfair to you or whatever other random person he was hoping would change his situation. What if he grabbed you and took you hostage? Maybe he has a terminal illness and this was his way out. There are infinite possibilities that we’ll probably never know about since we don’t know this person. Whatever his situation I hope he finds whatever it is that he was hoping for.

  2. Kim says:

    I am so sorry that this happened to you. What this person was doing/possibly did is against everything in human nature, so it’s normal that your mind couldn’t process it. Ditto what Caryn said, all of us would’ve stood there feeling paralyzed as well. It is easy for you to judge yourself in hindsight, but don’t be so hard on yourself. People that are intent on committing suicide have tunnel vision, he likely didn’t look around or even notice if the bridge was packed with people or that it was just you. A traumatic experience in a lot of ways, keep talking about it — it helps your mind heal. If you have any questions about trauma and it’s effects (witnessing something horrible like this) please feel free to contact me, it’s a field that I specialize in after 8 years, and continued work in the ER as a Social Worker. Take care.

  3. Jeff says:

    Wow. Heavy duty. Don’t beat yourself up… it doesn’t usually play out like it does in the movies… your story reminded me of this movie clip: http://youtu.be/wa55nOP82jo

  4. XLMIC says:

    Holy smokes. I can’t imagine being any part of that scenario. I’ve walked across the bridge a few times and totally knew what you meant about oblivious tourists and how challenging it would be to run across. (I kept thinking of how windy it usually is!). But to see what you saw and be right there…. how are you doing now? It’s a hard thing to witness… don’t sell that end of things short. Hope the guy is in a better place no matter what that would be.

  5. Mike Cuffe says:

    That’s totally crazy. What a story… yikes!

  6. Jane says:

    OMG! What a shock when all you were doing is going for a run! My heart goes out to you but as CK said, you reacted how most of us would have reacted. We think we will react a certain way in those type of situations but rarely is that the case! What a shock to you, your system, & psyche. Sending hugs!

  7. Marcia says:

    Whoa. Very freaky. No clue what I’d have done. Don’t beat yourself up over what you could or should have done. sad that anyone gets to the point of jumping.
    I rode a bike across the GG bridge and took a dinner cruise under it but never ran over it. maybe someday.

  8. Wow, I can’t imagine what a situation would leave me with…so much to think about for sure. It would be heavy on my heart for days. Definitely something to make one stop and really reflect on life. Found your blog through your comment on Taking it on. Nice to find you.

  9. […] week’s excitement was the would-be jumper on the Golden Gate Bridge. The GREAT news is that he didn’t end up jumping! Several friends […]

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