On April 15, 2013 I scrambled out of Boston in the biggest hurry and the most confused I’d ever been in my life. At 2:35PM I had just finished my 4th Boston Marathon and was basking in the glory of not only my 3 hours 51 minute finish, but the $16k I had raised for the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge.
No matter how many times I do it, crossing the finish line at a marathon is about the biggest natural high one can get in life. It was a pristine, beautiful day and I had not a care in the world as I tweeted and took pictures throughout the course. While I battled a blister and some fatigue, I had finished again! I stopped and talked to the members of the DFMC team. I had my picture taken about 100 yards away from the finish line at 2:45 and then meandered down Boylston collecting my tin foil cover and my medal, posing for pictures, grabbing food and looking for the DFMC bus with my stuff on it.
At 2:50, I found the bus which was about 3 football fields away from the finish line. As I grabbed my stuff from the volunteers on the bus, I heard the loudest noise I had ever heard and looked towards the finish line and saw a mushroom cloud of smoke. Fifteen seconds later, I heard another but more distant boom. I knew they were bombs. Everyone around me stared down about 1,000 feet. Then the silence. The screams. The panic. We didn’t know if there were more. Imagine running for 4 hours and having such physical fatigue. Accompany that exhaustive feeling with the mental frustration of trying to place what was going on around you. Sirens blaring. People pushing. Panicking. Running. Chaos. One of the best moments of my life instantly turned into one of the worst moments. I couldn’t make sense what was happening around me. Fortunately, my hotel was in the opposite direction of Copley Square and I fled.
I was listening to the coverage on the drive home to Connecticut as I watched squad cars, militia, SWAT cars pour into Boston on the Mass Pike. Crying as I drove I was trying to understand what exactly had just happened. I spent the entire week in a near coma watching the coverage unfold.
Nearly 3 months later on the Fourth of July, I finally made it back to Boston and back to the finish line on Bolyston. The turn on Bolyston for runners is full of cheers and joy. Last Thursday, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I turned on Bolyston to face the scene for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect out of myself. What to expect from others around me. On the sidewalk. Memorials. What was the protocol?
The finish line remains painted all year until the next year when the BAA updates it. I approached the finish line on the sidewalk where the bombings occurred in front of Sugary Heaven. There weren’t any signs at all of panic, smoke, bombs or death. None of what I saw that day or on TV was there. It was calmly normal. I stopped and sat down right near the finish line. I cried. I prayed. I touched the finish line with my hand. And most importantly, I vowed the next time I will touch it would be April 21, 2014 when I run my 5th Boston Marathon for DFMC.
I continued the stroll down Bolyston just like on did between 2:35 and 2:50 on April 15. It took me a lot less time on the 4th of July. No meandering and no blister to slow me down. I stopped exactly where I was getting my stuff off the bus at 2:50. I looked up and down Bolyston just like I did on April 15. I paused and cried again. The memory of the sound, the sight of the smoke, the still of the silence – they all still haunt me. And they will forever. There is no doubt that something in me changed that day.
Boston Strong. No doubt. I’ll train harder next year. I’ll run harder. I’ll raise more money than I did. I’ll stop along the course and hug and cheer those like I always do. And I guarantee the next time I turn on Bolyston, I will cry like a baby the entire way to the finish line.
No one can ever take that away from me. From us. We will prevail. The senseless acts of two will be forever our rally cry.