Liberty is to the collective body what health is to every individual body. Without health, no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society.
Monday, April 15, 2013: Patriots’ Day for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. I’m an avid competitive runner and look forward to this day every year. To me, the Boston Marathon represents the pinnacle of running for common runners like myself. It’s my dream to qualify for and run this race during my lifetime.
Monday afternoon I learned from a co-worker of the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I was tracking a couple of friends on the marathon website but had no idea about the bombings. I quickly checked news sites and was able to watch muted coverage on my boss’s TV. As I read the very early accounts and saw the footage, I was shocked. A thousand questions came to mind. Is everyone OK? Where are my running friends? I know some of them crossed the finish line but are they safe? What about the others? How did this happen? Were those really bombs? As I watched the silent coverage, one thought cut through: this is an attack on our freedom.
As I listened to coverage on the radio on my drive home, picked up the TV coverage at home, and checked Twitter and Facebook, the thought wouldn’t escape. This was a malicious act, it was senseless, it was heartless, it attacked the core of what I consider to be a great expression of freedom: running. At that point, I cried. The Boston Marathon’s iconic “Heartbreak Hill” took on an entirely new meaning for me…I was heartbroken for Boston. And because I didn’t know what else to do and couldn’t make sense out of any of it, I decided to do the only thing that did make sense to me: run. I ran 2.62 miles as a tribute to Boston, I ran to chase away fear, I ran to keep the free spirit alive.
I felt better when I returned home, but that was temporary. I turned the coverage back on while making dinner and at that point, for the first time, saw the video coverage of the bombings with audio. I heard the explosions, I heard the screams, I heard the shouts of terror and confusion, and again, I cried. I’ve run 4 marathons, and I know how grueling yet joyous a marathon finish is. And this scene was the complete antithesis. A marathon finish line is filled with cheering spectators, encouraging volunteers, congratulatory friends and family, and celebratory runners. Not bombs, lost limbs, causalities, screams, sirens, and mass chaos resembling a war zone. The freedom of running, to watch running, to support running, to celebrate life at its best was attacked.
The time on the official race clock directly above the finish line read 4 hours and 9 minutes when the first bomb shook Boylston Street. The significance of this time was not lost on me. Had I qualified for Boston in one of my previous two attempts and successfully registered, I would have made the 26 mile 385 yard journey from Hopkinton to Boston on that day and would very likely have been in the vicinity of the finish line when the bomb exploded. My family would have been right there cheering…just like Martin Richard, his mom, and sister cheered for their dad and husband. That little 8 year old boy, his mother, and sister weren’t a threat to anyone, they had done nothing wrong, they were at the finish line that day because they love their dad and husband. To a marathoner in the final stretch, that love and support means more than words can express…it is priceless. For such innocence to be taken away in one horrific instant is unfathomable.
Despite the panic and chaos, the running community displayed something it’s so good at…responding, adapting, and joining together to help each other through a time of adversity. Acts of heroism abounded and far outweighed the act of terrorism. The first responders immediately rushed to the scene to treat victims. Race volunteers and runners ran to the scene to help and pick up fallen spectators and other runners. The race medical tent personnel created a makeshift hospital to provide emergency care on the scene. Wheelchairs transported the injured before ambulances arrived with stretchers. The response for blood donations was so plentiful that the center had to turn donators away and ask them to return in the coming weeks when the need for blood would still be high. All of these acts and more speak volumes of the American spirit to act and join together during a time of crisis.
In the week following the bombings, the outpouring of support for the victims and their families and friends has been amazing. One Fund Boston was established to accept donations, raising a phenomenal $20 million in one week. Runners across the country are mobilizing at already established races and grassroots impromptu group runs to show their solidarity. Ultimately, we are a nation built on freedom and we will not be deterred. Boston strong. Boston stands as one. United we stand and united we run.
About the Author:
MEG SHERWOOD is a lover of running. She started running 14 years ago and hasn’t stopped. Meg checked “run a marathon” off her bucket list in 2010, but that was just the beginning. She has completed 4 marathons to date and one day hopes to qualify for and run Boston.
Photo Credit: “Runner’s Unite Race Bib” http://www.runjunkees.com/