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Heart of Boston : Marathon sneakers form iconic image

By Seema Mehta

3:55 PM EDT, April 26, 2013

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A Boston Magazine cover of multi-hued sneakers shaped into a heart, framing the headline “We Will Finish the Race,” is drawing acclaim as a symbol of hope and recovery in the aftermath of the deadly marathon bombings.

The May issue,  which hit newsstands Friday, was nearly completed April 15 when the twin bombs exploded a few blocks from the magazine's office near Copley Square.  Editor John Wolfson said he and his colleagues immediately decided to overhaul the cover and the magazine's stories. After assigning local authors to write a series of essays, designers brainstormed on how to illustrate the tragedy.

Design director Brian Struble and deputy design director Liz Noftle proposed photographing sneakers worn this year by marathon runners. Everyone signed on.

“It was a perfect moment,” Wolfson said. “It was so powerful, in fact, we decided what we really needed to do is scrap the essays and start telling the stories of the people who wore the shoes.”

But as a tight deadline loomed, they had one problem.

“We don’t have any shoes at that point,” he said. “It’s like shoes were gold for the next two days.”

Using social media and reaching out to friends, family and acquaintances, the staff gathered about 60 pairs by the time Struble needed to drive to New York City for a photo shoot three days after the bombings.

The portrait that resulted was haunting: Shoes in red hues form the inside edges of the heart, giving way to green, blue, gray, white and other shades. In the middle, against a heart-shaped black background, is the message of survival.

Meanwhile, the staff divvied up the runners for interviews about what the tragedy meant to them.

“We got a real range of answers,” Wolfson said. “Some people focused specifically on where they were on the course. Some people got deep,  talking about the place of the marathon in the city’s life.”

The end result is a collection of short stories called “The Shoes We Wore.” Fifteen were published in the magazine; those and more appear online. The website will be opened Tuesday to readers who want to post their thoughts along with a picture of their sneakers.

“We hope it becomes a forum,” Wolfson said.

The cover is being turned into a poster, and all proceeds will benefit  One Fund — Boston, a charitable effort to raise money for the victims.

Wolfson said he did not anticipate the response to the image.

“The thing I keep hearing is it’s a message of going forward, it’s a message of moving on,” he said. “Not that it isn’t important to examine the moment. Absolutely it is. [But] as a city, it’s about beginning the next process.”

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSeema