My personal experience with the city of Boston is pretty limited. A few of my cousins grew up there, and I’ve actually been to the city twice — once in high school and then again in college. I loved it when I went. I loved the history, and the feel of the city. It felt youthful and energetic. (Of course, my only point of reference at the time was Washington, DC, which can be called a lot of things, but youthful isn’t typically one of them.)
I, however, am a marathoner, or at least I once was. I trained all through the spring and summer of 2001. I dedicated every weekend and many mornings to running — something I’d never done before — and became connected to a wonderful group of likewise mostly rookie athletes taking on the same challenge. We formed strong bonds out on the trails, the kind that only supporting each other through seemingly impossible odds can create, and I consider myself fortunate to count many of those people still among my friends, 12 years later.
It was 2001, so just as we were starting to focus on our end goal, our nation, and our city, was struck a devastating, terrifying blow. Our lives were changed. Our sense of security was lost. It was life changing and confidence shaking. Suddenly, everything and everyone felt like a target. Any modestly sized public gathering felt scary. And a marathon is a significant event — with lots of people.
But even through that, I don’t think a single one of us considered not running, just a month later. I, and some of my friends, were registered for the Baltimore Marathon, which didn’t seem like as much of a target, but many of our group were planning to run the Marine Corps Marathon, right in DC, scheduled to go past the Pentagon, still destroyed from the attacks. The reality of what had happened was very present.
We ran anyway. We came out to support each other anyway. We navigated around the course in DC to cheer for our friends. We were there. We were vocal. We were alert and aware, but we were not afraid.
We ran, and we came out to support each other, because we were celebrating something so much bigger than terror and destruction. We were celebrating the ability to overcome something that seemed impossible. We were cheering each other on and holding each other up through a staggering personal achievement.
Our friends and families came out to support us. They made posters and ran with us and stood at the finish line to cheer us home. They were there because love, support and celebration were bigger than the fear or worry they felt. We all showed up for each other that day. And although I didn’t see it that way at the time, we were standing up to something, too.
I’ve been to the Marine Corps Marathon since, not to run, but to cheer on friends. Last year, we cheered for a friend here in the Vienna Marathon, and we would have been out there cheering again this past weekend if we’d all been well.
If I lived in Boston, I might have been along the course on Monday. Actually, no . . . I know I would have been. With my kids. I will always be there, when I can, to cheer and support the runners. The elite athletes demonstrate an amazing feat of fitness, and the rest of the runners give a spectacular show of spirit. What a way to teach the boys about athletic accomplishment, dedication, overcoming challenges, community and kindness . . . all in one place.
A marathon is a beautiful, amazing, epic thing. It is overwhelming and inspiring and magnificent. It breaks my heart that such an iconic event was a target of such hatred. It was a horrific, senseless, rage-inducing act of cowardice, and it sickens me to imagine the lives torn apart by this act of evil. I don’t want to minimize their suffering, or plaster over their pain with platitudes. But I also know that something like this, something awful and hateful, can’t overcome the incredible forces of good found around a marathon. For anyone who wants to break our spirit, intimidate us, or make us cower, the sideline of a marathon is about the worst place they could start. These are the people who already know they can do the impossible. And we will keep showing up for each other. It’s what we do.