Three of my siblings came to cheer me on, as did my mother and my husband-to-be. The night before the race, my family pulled out maps and, with the precision of a military tactical team, planned where everyone would be on the course to cheer me on. A good friend of mine was running the race with me and she and her siblings laughed at my family's overly-careful planning. My friend and I ran the whole race together, spotting our families and friends along the course. When we turned onto Boylston Street we pushed for a strong finish and raised our arms triumphantly as we crossed the finish line. We were tired, we were sore, but we finished and went on to celebrate with our loved ones.
Five years later, I watched the race coverage as women and men sped through the course. I cheered for the Colombian runner Yolanda Caballero, a widowed mother who led the women for miles, and for the Ethiopian woman who won. I watched as amateur runners crossed the start line and as elite runners of all ethnicities raced past the flags to cross the finish line. Then I turned off the screen and headed to the kitchen to make lunch.
It was almost three hours later that my husband texted me with news of the bombing. As I distractedly played with the children outside, I used my phone to search for news to learn of the dead and injured, devastated for the runners and their families.
I am tempted to say, "That could have been me. That could have been my family." I recognize where those bombs went off. I remember the flags, now forcefully pushed down so first responders could get to the injured. But it's not about me. It's about an evil soul who had a goal to injure, to maim, to kill and dismay us. More importantly though, it's also about those first responders. It's also about untrained volunteers rushing to help. It's about watching that awful blast over and over again and focusing on the number of people running towards the blast instead of away from it.
It's also about the runners whose journeys to the Boston Marathon are varied and unique. It's about how fatigued they were by the time the bombs went off. About distraught runners still on the course who were not only unable to fulfill their dream of crossing the finish line, but filled with dread and concern for their loved ones. Tired, cold and in shock, those runners likely felt sadness, disappointment, fear and anger within seconds of being stopped and herded off of the course.
The scenes from the coverage--the chaos, the debris, the blood--remind me of 9/11. Back then, I was living in New York City, and, like many folks in Boston today, devastated for my city, deeply saddened by the loss of two friends, and humbled by the courage of the firefighters who ran into the two burning buildings while others ran out. That year I was also running the NYC Marathon, though ambivalent about the months of training involved. After the towers fell, I was galvanized and decided to race the course with pride and courage. Fear was not going to stop me. As I stepped to the starting line that November, I discovered I was not alone. I was surrounded by Australians, Peruvians and people from all over the world who had braved two of the world's biggest concerns: flying and NYC. They came to stand alongside 23,000 fellow runners and prove that terrorists were not going to cow them out of their race. As I ran mile after mile, I passed dozens of firefighters along the course and bowed down to them and thanked them. What an honor: here were the real heroes, dressed in full gear, cheering me on.
I learned something from that race. I learned heroism takes many forms. Those runners from around the country and around the world came to my city to support New Yorkers and the U.S. They faced their families and said, I'm not afraid, I'm going. Some probably said, I'm afraid AND I'm still going. And they did. They ran. They cheered. They finished. The NYC Marathon in 2001 wasn't just a race, it was a revolution.
Today, less than 24 hours after the explosion in Boston, it's time to lead our individual revolutions. It's time to run toward Boston, not away. We must go to Boston, not to gawk, but to give. We must honor the victims and help them heal. We must remember those who lost their lives. We should seek justice, but not revenge. We should seek understanding, not hate. We should let this lesson permeate through our lives and give time if we have time to give and money if we have money to give. And, given the opportunity, we must inspire others just because we can.
With its storied history, the Boston Marathon has never been just a footrace. The Boston Marathon has been a goal, an aspiration, a dream, a story. This year's story has added a tragic chapter, but not a tragic end. The Boston Marathon is about triumph as it will be once again. Not today, not this month, but that finish line will one day, again herald joy and there will, once again, be families rushing in to scoop up their runners, their heroes.