Every November I look forward to the television special highlighting the Ironman World Championships at Kona. Without fail, these two hours of television restore my faith in humanity and so perfectly display the essence of the strength and courage of the human spirit. Every time I watch the event, I am pulled into the stories of the competitors – men and women entirely dedicated to something so big and crazy, an event that demands every fiber of their being be fine tuned in preparation.
This is exactly the same reason that I love cheering at marathons. This is exactly the reason that I was in Boston on Monday morning. I find the 26.2 mile distance to be one of the most beautiful forums for the display of the human spirit. By any standard, the marathon represents a crazy idea, and yet so many of us set out each year in pursuit of a goal that up until completion always feels just the slightest bit out of reach. The distance pushes us, scares us, refines us. And in the end, as we cross the finish line, we whisper quietly to ourselves that we have really done it – that we are strong enough to have stared down our own self-doubt and fear and we have come out on top.
In the midst of Monday’s tragedy and chaos, there were so many stories of beauty and hope and strength unfolding. Runners lined up in Hopkinton that morning each for their own reason – in honor of an uncle battling cancer, in remembrance of a fallen comrade in Iraq, in celebration of a hard fought PR qualifying time. I can think of no better event than the Boston Marathon to celebrate the culmination of these stories.
In the aftermath of the explosions, the injured were triaged and treated. As the chaos unfolded, needs were addressed in order of their severity – first, those most severely affected, then those with less threatening injuries, and then care for runners held back from crossing the finish line after it was transformed into a crime scene.
After the explosion, runners and families searched for each other, desperate to find loved ones. Reunions occurred in the streets – tired marathoner legs gave one final sprint as loved ones were spotted down the street or around the corner. Embrace, tears, words of gratitude.
A few spectators offered words of congratulations to runners wearing medals. These words were met with mixed emotions. Some runners nodded in response, others offered a quiet thank you. Some just shook their heads. Runners are a selfless bunch and I think that many just couldn’t accept congratulations in the midst of so much sadness and grief.
I offered my cell phone to a few runners desperate to connect with loved ones. As I did, I also offered a few quiet, somber words of congratulations. “Congratulations on your run. I know this is not what you imagined, but nevertheless congratulations on your accomplishment.”
To be certain, there were much more important priorities than finishing the last half mile of a marathon on Monday afternoon.
I will never forget the things that I saw in Boston on Monday and my heart is broken for the families of those injured and killed. But, as the images of the tragedy are seared in my mind, I also want to remember the reason that I decided to be in Boston in the first place: the incredible the beauty of the human spirit that the marathon displays so uniquely. As much as I bore witness to the fear and terror that the bombings brought, I was also a spectator of the strength and beauty of the human spirit in a way I have never seen – the courage of first responders, the selflessness of race volunteers, and, of course, the resolve, strength and determination of the runners. Even in the midst of such dire circumstances, with loved ones unaccounted for and with tired, cold, dehydrated bodies, these men and women showed extraordinary courage, strength and selflessness. So quick to set their own needs aside and lend a hand wherever they could, no mention of their own dreams of a Boston finish deferred.
What I am trying to say is that I will not let the tragic end to the marathon unravel my intention of being in Boston to cheer for the incredible accomplishment of each and every runner. Nor will I let the explosions derail my intention of celebrating the strength and courage of the men and women who ran Boston. Because, in the end, what the runners were asked to endure was so much more than a marathon. No matter where each runner’s race ended, be it at the finish line or at mile 25.8, the display of the human spirit and of the runner’s heart on Monday afternoon is something worth celebrating, worth holding up and worth cheering for.