President Obama picked up the national refrain at Thursday’s memorial service in Boston for the victims of Monday’s bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
“We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again,” the president said. “Of that I have no doubt. You will run again. You will run again.”
There is no doubt that the Boston Marathon will take place for the 118th time next April. Bostonians wouldn’t have it any other way. And runners will keep running – even those who were traumatized by the blasts Monday.
But the running community – a bonded clan that covers every corner of the U.S. – was shattered in ways Monday that are hard to comprehend. And in many ways, the peace that running brings them may never be quite the same.
Monday’s events affected area runners who were there in very different ways.
Mike Rogers, a 67-year-old orthodontist from Augusta, crossed the finish line one minute before the bombs went off and was told to keep on running. He and his wife, Beth, returned safely home.
“I think I probably will run in Boston again,” said Rogers, who’s run 41 marathons in the past 10 years. “You can’t let one thing like that change your entire life. We want to not let the terrorists win.”
John Head, 51, of Aiken, finished 35 minutes ahead of the blasts and endured some difficulty reconnecting with his daughter, Rebecca, in the building chaos after the race.
“It sunk in more since I’ve gotten home,” said Head, whose four career marathons included two trips to Boston. “It was so strange to be around something like that. … It was nice to see the pride that Bostonians had in their city. They were so mad and determined to come back and make them stronger. One was concerned I might not come back. But I would go back again.”
Both men gave the expected response from someone with the strength and fortitude to run 26.2 miles.
My wife is a part of that “running community.” She had friends who were in Boston – friends who came home deeply affected by what happened to them and their extended running family.
One of those friends, Cindy Adams, tearfully revealed the complicated emotions that were dredged up by the Boston attack.
“I’m not in the mindset yet where a lot of runners are that we’re going to beat this,” said Adams, 51, of Athens, Ga. “Because for me right now it’s too raw.”
Adams, who started running in high school in Weston, Mass., had never fulfilled her desire to run the Boston Marathon until Monday. She finished in 3:38.39, just more than 40 minutes before the bombs went off.
Her daughters – Alexis, 13, and Analise, 11 – were with their father hoping to watch their mom cross the finish line. But it was too crowded so they stood a little further up Boylston Street. After Adams passed, her family tried to walk through the area where the bombs eventually went off but it was still too congested, so they made their way around the block to reach their designated family meeting area.
Adams remained the “strong mommy” until her family made it home.
“But when I dropped my kids off at school, it hit me,” she said. “The difficult thing for me, and I’m going to be emotional here, is my children were there and they had just walked through that area. Timing was everything. If my run had taken any longer ... what if, what if, what if? It’s one thing when adults take a risk. When you go off to do these types of things you sort of know the inherent risk involved. But when you have your children with you and electively choose to take your children with you as I did in this case, it’s a heavy weight that they were exposed to something such as this.”
Adams isn’t surprised to see runners across the country uniting in support.
“To be in Boston in the first place, you’re obviously very passionate about your sport and it is part of who we are,” Adams said. “So part of who we are has changed today and that’s difficult. I know the running aspect of it is so minor to what happened, but in the running community we’re dealing with a grief in addition to the grief of all of this. We’re dealing with a grief that something so near and dear to us – which is our sport – a piece of it died. We will go on and we will run and there will be further races, but our sport forever changed on Monday. And that’s a big chunk of who we are as people. It is a joy in our life and a positive in our life, it’s social and friendship and all of these things. For that to be on our minds when we go to races is going to be difficult.”
People are drawn to running for all manner of reasons. Maybe they do it to get in shape or lose weight. Maybe they do it get that “runner’s high.” Whatever the reason, they all feel a connection.
“We talk about it all the time how there are no strangers among us,” Adams said. “Even if we’ve never met before ... we immediately have a connection when we pass on the road. It’s a funny little thing. It’s cool in a sport that seems like it would be very isolated and very solitary.”
Nowhere is that connection more on display than Boston.
“The Boston Marathon, of all events, it is the most supportive,” Adams said. “This was my first running of it, but I’ve always heard that you’re a rock star. The entire town supports fitness and health and accomplishment and hard work. The entire 26 miles it was five people deep with people cheering for you. It’s just like nothing you’ve ever seen before in an arena.
“So the end of that race to be such a contrast of this evil I cannot fathom. In hindsight, I see it’s a sport that you can’t have security at an outdoor event like this. I’ve run many big-city marathons, but the thought never crossed my mind before. But now in hindsight I can see this is a known target now. I attempted to run New York, then Hurricane Sandy occurred and I rolled over my entry to next year. But will I go to New York? There are 40,000 people. It’s New York. I don’t know. I can’t immediately say, ‘Yeah, I’m ready to do this again.’ My mind will get that far, I hope. I hope I can turn around and later on feel like we’re better than this and I can continue on.
“I won’t expose my children to it, I can say that sadly. I think it’s important for children to see their parents setting an example and it was a great experience for them to see Boston and such a great event, but we know that obviously there’s a danger here that we have to see as reality.”
We’ve gotten used to all the security layers in place since 9/11. We don’t flinch when strangers poke through our bags before entering a football stadium or the Masters Tournament.
But marathons stretch across 26 miles of public roads. It’s impossible to “secure.”
“I think we’ve gotten a little lax since nothing else happened for so long,” Rogers said. “In 2002 or ’03 they were checking trunks of cars and people before the Boston Marathon. They haven’t been doing that anymore. I’m sure they’ll do what they can.”
In the end, we’re not going to stop holding marathons and parades and carnivals and all the things that make up our American lives.
They will run again, as the president said. But they may run looking over their shoulders, instead of just the open road ahead.