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Adele from Lugano, the Town of My Heart; Miami Steve Van Zandt; and the Victorious Hearts of Marathon Runners

~ The End of Summer in New York in 1983 ~

Aug 6, 2008
Eiji Yoshikawa

Adele from Lugano, the Town of My Heart, and Miami Steve Van Zandt

Adele Maspoli was my classmate at the American Language Program (ALP) at Columbia University. She was from Lugano, Switzerland and she and I sometimes jogged together in Central Park. One day in November, she had to go back to her country. She said to me, “Eiji, you are an unusual Japanese, but you will be fine when you are back in Japan because you are good.”

That night, I remember that I bought a cup of ice cream. As I walked back to the YMCA on Broadway, I saw Miami Steve Van Zandt, who played the guitar in the E-Street Band and was later a TV star in “The Sopranos”, which my friend, Frank Renzulli, wrote a number of scripts for. Van Zandt walked into a nice restaurant called “O’Neal’s Balloon”, accompanied by his wife.

The restaurant was in front of Lincoln Center, and was filled with men in tuxedos and dressed-up people who looked way too good for me. I searched in my pocket and found three dollars. I looked at the menu outside, and read, “Coffee: $1.50”. Okay, let’s go.

Luckily, the table behind Van Zandt’s was open. I sat there and spoke to him, excusing myself to his wife, who was really nice, and said, “No problem”, with a big smile on her face. Within a few minute’s conversation, Miami Steve started writing the phone numbers of his manager’s office on a paper napkin. He checked with his wife about the phone number a few times. He wrote “Ginny Buckley, 212-….” and said, “Give me a call”, and then handed the napkin over to me. He and his wife were very open-hearted.

Later in November on my birthday, the mail guy in the mail center at the YMCA found me and said, “You’ve got a parcel.” It was from Adele. She had sent me a sweatshirt with the logo of Lugano, Switzerland on it that read “Lugano, La Citta del Mio Cuore” (“Lugano, the town of my heart.”) Later, I visited Lugano two or three times, and it did indeed become “the town of my heart”.

The Victorious Hearts of Marathon Runners

After summer was gone, in November, when the color of the leaves in Central Park started changing, I saw Grete Waitz winning the New York City Marathon. Although I felt a strong spirit from Grete’s powerful run, as the marathon champ, what struck me the most were the other runners way behind her. They were not winners of the race, but they were winners who overcame themselves.

As those runners who came in as the one hundredth or two hundredth to cross the finish line, there was no big applause or crowns placed on their heads. Some raised their hands as they finished. Many didn’t, and just put their hands on their waist and kept walking, looking down at their feet. To me, they were all winners.

To a small-time boxer who never won a medal or a champion’s belt, those runners were himself. It doesn’t matter if you are the hundred and fiftieth or the slowest runner, you need to overcome yourself. You need to challenge yourself.

As I saw the lonely backs of those runners that kept walking after the race, I think I saw the reason why I flew all the way to New York, just to be alone and to figure out how I could put a period on my career as a fighter. I thank those runners who didn’t complain, did what they had to do, and walked away as they crossed the finish line.

As the summer heat in New York was going away, and the trees were taking off their worn-out clothes to get ready for their new shiny green leaves to come out, I was changing my clothes too. The Japanese boxer who felt like a shell after a cicada had left, took his soul and spirit back in a brand new shell.

My English teacher, Frances Boyd at the ALP, promoted me up to 9A from 7A at the end of the semester which was a great honor. I told her that I was leaving, and she said, “You will be fine in Japan.” She wrote a very nice testimonial for me when I said to her, “I don’t know if I can get along with Japanese people.”

My one year stay in New York was coming to an end.

Eiji Yoshikawa is a retired Pro Boxer who majored inFrench literature and did his thesis on Jean Cocteau and Cinematography. He founded the "Peacemakers", Japan's first neighborhood watch, and spends much of his time visiting schools and communities teaching children about non-violence. In 2004, Japan Inc. Magazine called him the "Compassionate Pugilist". We are proud to offer "Letters from the Compassionate Pugilist" as our first guestcolumnist. Contact Eiji at or via email.

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