I ran my first Boston Marathon in 1965.
I will never forget the sheer physical experience, the pain, fatigue and exhaustion. But equally, I will never forget the emotional high — the rising excitement as the miles wore on, the cheering of the crowd as I approached the finish and my profound sense of accomplishment.
Before running that Boston Marathon as a freshman in college, I had run in dozens of shorter competitions as a member of the cross-country team at Fitch High in Groton. My coach, John J. Kelley, had won Boston in 1957, and represented the U.S. twice in the Olympic Games. He often spoke of the wonderful international runners he met at the Olympics.
Mr. Kelley was more than just a coach to me, however, or perhaps he was simply an ideal one. For him, running was a vehicle that joined us to the surrounding world.
In running, he saw a connection to the community and environment and ultimately to our sense of self. From him I did not just learn how to run, I learned what it meant to run.
That first marathon in 1965 wouldn't be my last. Three years later, I was lucky enough to win Boston. Over the years, I have run the Boston Marathon 19 times.
I have spent my life running and structured my career around the sport. In that time, Coach Kelley's insights have grown clearer and more meaningful to me. As a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador, my regular runs connected me to villagers with a far different life than mine.
In 1976, the first five-borough New York City Marathon did much the same, linking thousands of runners to millions of spectators in all the boroughs. Runners toured dozens of neighborhoods, marveling at the quilt of ethnic communities. Each neighborhood welcomed the runners in its own way, and everyone shared a sense of togetherness.
I see running as a means of connecting us, not just to one another, but also to our larger identities. When the 100th anniversary of the Boston Marathon approached in 1996, my running friends and I anticipated the event as never before. The centennial was a landmark anniversary and a celebration of shared values. Everyone in the sport was there. I remember clearly thinking that it was the most important race ever.
This year's Boston Marathon is far more important.
After last year's horrible and senseless bombings, we have so much more to run for now. We need to run to reaffirm our sense of values. We need to run to assert that we will not be divided against one another by violence or cruelty. We need to run as Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or members of any other faith.
We need to run together as people — we call ourselves the "human race" after all — declaring our shared hopes and dreams for life on this fragile planet.
But most of all, we need to run in remembrance of those whose lives were stolen away last year, and for those whose wounds continue to heal. This year, I will run the marathon with my wife, my brother, my brother-in-law and my future daughter-in-law. I will run with my family and my friends. I will run to express resilience and hope and love.
For the first time, I will also run for a charity, the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation. Eight-year-old Martin Richard was one of the victims of last year's bombing. He became known worldwide in the aftermath when a photograph of him went viral on the Internet. He was holding a hand-drawn sign with a simple message: "No more hurting people. Peace."
As the foundation notes, at just 8 years old, Martin recognized that "while we are all different, we are all the same."
It's a message and mission that my high school coach, Mr. Kelley, would have believed in as well. It's a belief that I will carry with me in this year's marathon, and it's one that I know all the other runners will share.Copyright © 2015, CT Now