Beyond the Finish Line

By Susan Sidoriak

The following was taken from Susan’s speech at the opening night of her art exhibit, Beyond the Finish Line, at the Community Art Center in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania.

Photo by Susan Sidoriak (The SidePorch)
Photo by Susan Sidoriak (The SidePorch)

My name is Susan Sidoriak. I live in Collegeville with my husband Ted, and have two daughters, Emma and Maggie. I was born and raised in Tamaqua and graduated in 1989. I left for the Art Institute of Philadelphia at the age of 17. While I had my eyes set on a big city, I always left a piece of my heart in this small town.

What I quickly realized after settling into Philadelphia, was how much this little town prepared me for life. I was able to grasp onto what I loved while I was here, and run with it. Literally.

The Tamaqua High School Arts Program allowed me to leave with my head held high. I was also part of our Cross Country and Track teams. Little did I know how much these activities would impact my life. The work ethic instilled in my upbringing is something I hope to think I have retained to this day. Be it, teachers, coaches, and family, it’s safe to say, that without certain people in our lives we would not be who we are.

This leads me to the art that surrounds us tonight. In 2012 I ran my first marathon. When I began training, there was a part of me that knew what I was getting myself into, but a bigger part that didn’t. The surprise was how much it would change my everyday life. I found a sense of achievement I never thought possible. This feeling followed through into other areas. In work, in taking chances I may have been afraid of, in pushing through when I thought I couldn’t. It taught me that you have to dig down deep for everything you want. It taught me to trust the process when I couldn’t see the finish line.

In 2015 I showed up to my first marathon, not as a runner, but as a spectator, to watch our oldest daughter Emma. Of course, I brought my camera along to photograph her. A marathon takes a few hours, so there’s down time in waiting for your loved one to run by. (By the way, to anyone that has done this spectating; and I’m pretty sure I can speak for any runner here tonight… thank you from the bottom of our hearts. When your body is breaking down, our friends and family that awaits us are what propels us to the finish.)

Photo by Susan Sidoriak (The SidePorch)
Photo by Susan Sidoriak (The SidePorch)

As we waited for Emma to cross the finish line, I found myself snapping photos of other runners until she arrived. Unexpectedly my eyes began to fill with tears, enough that I could not see the through the lens. I didn’t just see these people finishing. I felt the training. I felt the pain. I didn’t see seconds, I saw months. I didn’t just see their finish. I felt their finish.

At the end of that day, I came home with six photos of Emma and 300 photos of runners I didn’t know. Unsure of what to do with these images of strangers, I began reaching out to these people to ask if they’d be interested in sharing their stories. To my surprise, one by one they said yes. At that point, this project became much bigger than me.

Emma went on to run the 2016 Boston Marathon. This was my second time spectating. Again, I came home with about 600 images of runners and 10 of Emma. I continued to reach out to these runners for their stories as well.

At this point, being a spectator wasn’t enough. I needed to photograph at a different angle, and not just the spectators profile view. I crossed my fingers and sent an email to the Philadelphia Marathon for a media pass. To my surprise I got in and before I knew it I was standing in the thralls of all the action with the major news anchors on race day. 

This basically gave me the ability to move around and be more agile at the finish line. Now that I’ve explained this, you’ll be able to see in these photos when I was a spectator vs. having the freedom to get a direct shot of the runners coming into the finish.

I’ll never forget how nervous I was to stand there with the news teams and photographers, and make sure I stayed out of their way while trying to get a good shot. To my surprise, after the winners came in, the news teams left and the other photographers started to dissipate. I had an open canvas of space. Eventually it was just me, the first responders, the volunteers, and the tens of thousands of runners with their untold stories coming directly at me. I initially questioned myself for staying, but as the day went on I started to realize it was exactly where I was meant to be.

Photo by Susan Sidoriak (The SidePorch)
Photo by Susan Sidoriak (The SidePorch)

Another odd fact is that I chose to photograph the runners just seconds after they crossed the finish and not before. I did recognize I was the only photographer doing this. You see, something comes over you when you cross the fiish, that seconds before wasn’t there. You are a changed person. All of those months and sometimes years, that took you to get to that one destination spill out in ways that I could never explain. I was literally the luckiest girl to get to stand there to take it all in and be here to share it with the rest of you tonight.

In closing, while I understand many of you may not know what a sub-3 marathon or a tempo run means, you’re still here, be it from near and far, I cannot thank you enough. For every one of you, especially my closest friends and family, and Ted, Emma and Maggie, for every single time I talked about running, thank you for listening. To the actual runners in these photos that I met for the first time tonight, that drove from other states to be here, you have no clue what this means to me. To Corinne, my business partner, for putting up with me on a daily basis. To Beth for the push to do this show, and Leona for seeing it through with such grace, I thank you.

And finally, to the Art Center for hosting this special event, I will be forever grateful. One of my favorite quotes written by Picasso is “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it.” Thank you all for making one of my biggest dreams come true and being part of it this evening. How lucky are we to have the place you’re standing in right now? The Arts are beginning to seep into the streets of this town because of the vision a few people had. My hope is that there are kids out there like I once was to grasp on to this creative environment and never let it go.

May you always have faith in yourself, live with courage and follow your heart.

Editorial Note: Do yourself a huge favor by setting aside at least a half an hour, settling in on a cozy chair, and immersing yourself in Susan’s photographs and the stories behind them at The SidePorch Running Journal. Just make sure you have a box of tissues within arms reach.

Susan Sidoriak

Susan Sidoriak

DianSusan Sidoriak is a graphic designer, photographer and runner for 30 years. She owns and operates Silverbox Creative Studio and the SidePorch. She resides in Collegeville, Pa with her husband, Ted, and two daughters, Emma and Maggie.Susan Sidoriak is a graphic designer, photographer and runner for 30 years. She owns and operates Silverbox Creative Studio and the SidePorch. She resides in Collegeville, Pa with her husband, Ted, and two daughters, Emma and Maggie.

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