April 21, 2013
It has almost been a week since the tragic events of the 2013 Boston Marathon. I have to admit it has been a week I never thought I would personally experience. A week that has changed me forever. And a week that I hope has not changed me forever.
Carolyn and I having been both been too close for comfort but fortunately far enough away from the two explosions got to witness the panic of most of the runners and spectators, and the immediate call to action of the police and other first responders. When the first explosion went off I was confused. I thought that maybe the grandstand collapsed or the inflatable finish line had popped. I wasn’t nervous and thought the people running at me screaming surely had to be overreacting. Then moments later, I heard the second explosion and while I never had heard a bomb explode before, I knew exactly what it was. I was overtaking by people running for safety. Knowing Carolyn and Anne had just crossed the finish line a few minutes before, I panicked myself and took off running for the finishers corral area. I called my friend Jeff who had been watching online and giving me race updates throughout the day and asked him what happened. He couldn’t help, he said the image became pixelated and there was just a lot of smoke. I hung up and told him to start looking online to see what news reports were saying. The to my relief Carolyn called. She had just gotten her gear bag and let me know they were OK to meet them on Arlington. We had to walk to the car which was parked a mile or so away at the convention center but we got to it and were safe.
We got home and spent the rest of the day watching the news trying to find out what happened. It was then that I learned the second explosion was a few yards from where I was watching the runners make their way to the finish line. We started going over all the what if’s and realized how fortunate and lucky we were. What if I hadn’t decided 30 second before to check the run tracker app and saw they finished to see Carolyn and Anne had finished and I missed them. What if I had went with my initial plan to walk down Boylston Street to keep watching runners which would have placed me right at the site of the first explosion instead of safely at the intersection of Newbury Street and Exeter. What if Carolyn hadn’t run the first half faster than we had planned. What if she had walked more in the Newton Hills when she was trying to protect her injured hamstring. The more we learned on the news the less we knew and the more what if’s circled our heads.
We flew back to Phoenix the next day but could not escape obsessing about everything that occurred the previous day. And the next day and the next day. Then Thursday the FBI released suspect #1 and suspect #2 pictures and video. It was creepy in seeing how they looked so normal and even creepier that the video shows them walking right behind me. Everyone has asked me if I saw them but I was doing the same thing the thousands of other spectators were doing, watching the runners. I was exhausted and feel asleep really early but woke up with the TV on and reports of the police closing in on the suspects in Watertown. I spent the rest of night switching between CNN and MSNBC hoping one of them could be accurate. It was frustrating as hell they they both spent more time speculating than reporting. Friday was spent checking online when I could for any new news and Anne sending me text after text saying nothing was happening. Finally at my daughter’s softball game that evening the report came through that suspect #2 had been captured and the ordeal had finally ended.
But it hasn’t. Despite being a block from the explosions and fortunately not seeing any of the horrific causalities, I have been completely emotionally raw. The news reporting has been bordering on negligence I think on each outlet trying to be the first rather than focusing on being right. Little things that never before would even be contemplated now get stuck in my head. I passed a garbage can the other day at a ball and as I tossed my gum in it, I had a quick flash of what if. Upon my return to work as I was walking up the stairs our building tested the fire alarm. The loud wail of the alarm in the past would have just been an afterthought but this time I had a moment of sheer panic. I had to turn around and leave the building to alleviate the anxiety. I ran Pat’s Run and had too many moments of what if’s as I looked around the starting corrals and the spectators. Having experienced an experience I never though I actually would, I know can not shake it. I trust in time these thoughts will wane and I will return to my pre April 15, 2013 ignorant bliss. I am sure had I stayed on Boylston and seen the carnage rather than merely felt it, this would have been an impossible goal. I hope the little seemingly inconsequential decisions that I made that day that ultimately turned out to be life altering will once again be natural without constant second guessing.
But the one part of this tragedy that I will not be so eager to shed is the resilience that has been demonstrated. The images of first responders tearing through the barricades without regard showed valor beyond description. Cowboy hat wearing Carlos Arredondo pinching the artery of a victim that had his legs blown off acting exactly how everyone hopes they would in the same circumstances. There is a quote that has been circulating around and I will paraphrase, “If you are trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to fuck with”. Yea, I made it a little more dramatic, but it is true. The very drive that allows us runners to accomplish feats that seem impossible to most of the population is what is going to make running stronger than ever. I expect the 2014 Boston Marathon is going to have more people trying to qualify than ever and more spectators attend than ever, the exact opposite consequences the Tsarnaev brothers had hoped. The city of Boston and the BAA have both shown a empathy without weakness. Cities, sports teams, citizens and runners and running groups have circled the wagons and honored the victims of the tragedy. I will be running in a 3 mile Run for Boston event to raise money for OneFundBoston.
In one week running has shown me the lowest depths of humanity followed by the highest summit of humankind. And the great thing, the summit is a whole hell of a lot more crowded.