CLINT McCORMICK was training for the Big Sur marathon last spring when a travel agent on his route gave him a brochure describing the Eighth Annual International Moscow Peace Marathon in August. The prospect intrigued him. ``I saw myself in the postal uniform, carrying letters from Americans and handing them to Russians as I ran through the streets of Moscow.'' Why not? the Monterey, Calif., postman wondered. ``I could dream about it,'' he said, ``or I could make it happen. I decided to make it happen.''
During the summer, the shy, private McCormick made eloquent requests in the local and national news media, and letters and donations from across the country flooded the ``Mail for Moscow'' postal box in the Monterey Post Office. On Aug. 6, traveling with 30 Americans brought together by Projects for Planetary Peace, McCormick left for Moscow, his luggage stuffed with about 10,000 letters.
Donations covered most of his expenses. ``With five children to support, I couldn't have paid for the trip,'' he says. ``But none of it would have mattered without the letters. Americans of all ages opened their hearts to their Russian counterparts; they wrote about peace, family, school, work, hobbies. Some sent pictures, cards, mail samples of hand lotion, soap, packets of seeds.''
Moved by the honesty and inspiration of their messages, he kept a copy of every letter. ``Listen,'' he said, and read from one: ```Dear Soviet Citizen, ... I hope we can be friends and reach across the hostilities that separate our two nations. Please write back to me and tell me what you think of your world and mine. ... Perhaps we will come across each other in Red Square, and we will talk about a thing that will no longer exist - the threat of nuclear war.' That was written by a 16-year-old girl,'' he said with pride.
McCormick's first impression of Moscow was disappointing. The city seemed overwhelmingly gray and bleak. And most of the people he hoped to reach with his peace offerings appeared serious and reserved. ``I hadn't come all this way to be stopped by pessimism; I started concentrating on positives.''
Touring Moscow, McCormick discovered its unique buildings, landscaped areas, and beautifully detailed sculpture. ``It didn't seem much different than a large American city, although there's not much color. When we found a bright red and yellow sign advertising school clothes, I felt right at home.''
In passing, he nodded and smiled at the Russian citizens, and their solemn features were transformed. ``The warmth was there all the time,'' he says.
The 26.22-mile marathon course wound through Gorky Park and up and down the streets of Moscow. McCormick was certain he would be able to distribute all 10,000 letters; he was advised by a fellow American, however, that the race had failed to draw a large number of spectators in the past.
Determined to deliver 100 percent of his mail, McCormick took 2,000 letters and positioned himself at a subway exit with a sign in Russian saying, ``Letters of friendship from America; please take one if you want to write back.''
``A Moscow television poll-taker said I would be wasting my time; that in spite of glasnost, Muscovites are very cautious. He was about as wrong as a pollster can get. I was mobbed!''
Aug. 13, marathon day, was sunny and hot. McCormick, carrying 4,000 letters, left the starting line with 6,700 fellow marathoners. He had jogged only a few yards when his sign attracted the attention of the crowd. ``From then on, I was handing out envelopes right and left.''
He was often stopped along the route as groups gathered to share the letters. When translators were available, the messages were read aloud. One red-cheeked woman opened a letter containing a snapshot of two American children and insisted on sharing her pleasure with Clint. ``She was so moved; she showed me the picture and shook my hand and thanked me again and again.''
Halfway through the race, he was feeling the heat. ``The last half was tough - water stations were six or seven miles apart. I finished in 4 hours, 58 minutes, and 51 seconds. Not bad for a mail route.''
After the race, McCormick and the American touring group took a night train to Kiev, 375 miles from Moscow, to attend the Peace Fair Exposition for Economic Achievement. Before the fair, they visited a Young Pioneer camp (similar to a Scout camp), where McCormick distributed the last 2,000 letters. ``I figured if anyone would write back, it would be these kids.''
His peace campaign did not go unnoticed. He was asked to say a few words to the people who had gathered for one of the regularly scheduled programs. From his position on the bandstand, McCormick looked down on a crowd of 8,000 to 10,000. A few months before the thought of speaking in public would have terrified him. But he looked at their faces and the words came.
``I extended greetings from America and told them I was a messenger for peace,'' he says.
``I don't remember much more, but I'll never forget their response. They applauded in unison and some of them were crying. They gave me the key to the city; it was an honor, but the people touched me more than anything.''
Returning home, McCormick was concerned about maintaining the momentum. ``It was just the first step - we can't stop now.'' A few weeks later, he received a call from a woman in the Midwest; her 11-year-old daughter had received a letter from her pen pal in Russia.
``She was so excited,'' the mother said, ``she wants to dedicate her life to world peace.''