By Bill Harris
The other day I was sitting at my desk following the progress of my friend Darin on the Boston Marathon website. From a chip attached to his shoe a signal is relayed that records his time as he runs across magnetic strips placed along the course. Darin, myself, and my wife Lisa share in a fraternity of odd and committed people that train for months in order to run 26.2 miles with thousands of other people. I quietly celebrated as Darin finished in a very respectable 3 hours and 33 minutes, a major accomplishment for a 47 year old that fractured his neck just 14 months ago. About 45 minutes later my wife called me at school and told me of the explosions being reported near the finish line of this marathon. I got instantly sick to my stomach. Right away I started trying to call Darin. No luck. I eventually reached his mother, who told me that that he and his wife were okay. I was relieved that the Stewarts were okay, but I was still sickened at the thought of a terrorist attack at, of all places, the finish line of a marathon.
The finish area of a marathon is one of the most positive and inspirational places I have been. It is the culmination and peak of a very difficult physical and mental challenge, that the runners have trained themselves to achieve for months. In a marathon all the spectators are cheering for the participants. No one boos or hurls negative insults at officials or an opposing team. In a marathon every runner, from the elite to the 60 year old grandma, has the same challenge, runs the same distance, trains in much the same way. It is a very unique sporting environment. Like no other.
Last summer, for the first time, I had the opportunity to watch a marathon from the sideline. Because of an injury I had to give up my entry to the Utah Valley Marathon and become a spectator and support for my wife, who was running. I had a great time moving along the course, ringing my cowbell, and yelling encouragement to my wife and all other runners. I eventually made my way to the finish line and stood on the course about 100 yards from the finish. As people passed me I was so inspired by what I saw. There was so much determination, anguish, relief, and joy in the faces of people as they passed. There were young people, old people, cancer survivors, grandmas, grandpas, skinny people, not-so-skinny people, and everything in between. One woman’s face seemed to sum it all up. She was probably in her forties, probably a mother of several children, kind of short, not a classic runner’s body. As she came by with her eyes on the finish she had a stone determination on her face and tears rolling down her face. It could have been because of pain, or maybe because of the relief and joy of what she was about to accomplish. From my experience, running six marathons, I think it was both. I was almost jealous that I was not one of these pained runners. Few places I’ve been have so many people who are realizing a huge triumph of the human spirit. It is hard to describe.
From the Boston news reports the image is still etched in my mind of 78 year old Bill Iffrig, twenty meters from the finish line, falling to the ground as the first blast occurs. He is helped up and gets across the line with a time 4 hours and 3 minutes, an amazing time for a man of that age. Soon after, he is asked by race workers if he would like a ride or help back to his hotel. In true marathoner fashion, he replied “It’s just six blocks away, I’ll be fine.”
That’s why this violent act in Boston was so shocking to process. There is such a contrast between thousands of high achieving people meeting a huge challenge, with tens of thousands who have come to see this sports spectacle; and the small minded, dark, selfish, evil, cowardly individuals that set off these bombs killing three and maiming dozens. This is a stark reminder of the constant battle between good and evil.
Marathoners are tough people; Bostonians are tough people; and there are still enough tough Americans out there that will take this act of terror and have greater resolve to do what is right, to do what is noble, and do what is hard, even in the face of evil.
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