After The Marathon Bombings, So Much Compassion

BOSTON — The other day, I went back and looked through the notes I was typing in last April 15 at the Boston Marathon. Back when it was a normal day.

Shalane Flanagan, from nearby Marblehead, Mass., had finished fourth and was extremely disappointed. She had worked very hard at her training and wanted to win. I was listening to her talking on my tape recorder and just starting to think about what I wanted to write for a story that day.

"I've been thinking about this moment for a long time," Shalane said as I typed. "I'm extremely happy I fulfilled a lifelong goal of mine but I dreamt of winning today, I dreamt of a laurel wreath on my head. And it didn't happen, but that's the reason why goals are big and they're hard."

Got it. I kept typing: "I just wish I had more in my legs to compete all the way to the finish. I'll never forget this da..."

And that's where the quote stopped. Because, I'm pretty sure, that's when we heard the first bomb explode on Boylston Street near the finish line. And after that, nobody ever would forget this day.

We heard it. We felt it. We did not see anything but we knew something was not right and then when somebody came in yelling that we were to stay in the hotel (where the media headquarters was), that there were bombs at the finish line, there was an immediate sense of shock. Then, of course, being reporters, we went outside to see what was going on. We were around the corner from the finish line, and all I could see was wave upon wave of police cars coming from every point of the city, converging on Boylston Street.

The reporters and photographers who were at the finish line did tremendous work that day. I'm not sure I could have done half as well. It was hard to think and function, even where I was, especially after erroneous news reports informed us that there might be unexploded bombs still out there, maybe even in a Copley Square Hotel, where we were locked down. We saw guys with bomb squad suits going through the trash cans outside. It was chilling. We knew people were dead and injured. We didn't know when we would be able to leave.

I came across another note that I wrote when I was just trying to find out any kind of information from anybody. Somebody gave me the number of a writer who had been at the finish line. I don't remember his name. I do remember calling him, though, and this is what I wrote down:

"I didn't sign up for this," he said, still in shock. "All I do is write a running column. This is the Boston Marathon. This is supposed to be a fun event. It felt surreal. It looked like a scene out of a movie. A man had lost part of his leg, [he was] in a wheelchair. It was just indescribable. Police kept pushing us back."

None of us signed up for this. But in the aftermath of the bombing and the lockdown of Boston and surrounding areas and the capture of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, after the dust settled, people wanted to do something. And plenty of people surged forward and signed up. There was an overflowing memorial on Boylston Street. There was the One Fund, set up the day after the bombing, a charity that would help the victims, many of whom had lost limbs, and the families of those who had lost their lives.

Last June, there was the One Run For Boston, a 3,000-plus-mile charity relay from California to Boston, conceived by a trio of British citizens who watched the marathon tragedy unfold in England and wanted to do something to help. Runners throughout the country did what they do best — run — and this year, with the second One Run For Boston that ended last weekend in Boston, they raised about $440,000 for the One Fund.

They ran nonstop. Even through tornadoes. One of the ORFB founders, Kate Treleaven, described part of the relay near St. Louis.

"In St. Louis, I joined the leg at 4 a.m. on the outskirts coming in to the city, it was humid, the wind got up, then the rain poured, then the sirens went off," she said. "Everybody was incredibly relaxed. I guess that's how you are if you live there. We were 2 miles from the tornado. People were in their basements sheltering only a half hour before their leg. They still came out to run."

Another of the founders, Danny Bent, who wore comically short red shorts for much of his cross country trip, which made everybody laugh, and who tried to run 10 miles a day with the relay, hugged me when we met. He hugged a lot of people on the 3,000-mile trip. And he wasn't done.

"We'll be around for the marathon," he said. "We'll have a hug station for runners who need a boost."

After the March 26 fire in the Back Bay claimed the lives of firefighters Lt. Edward J. Walsh Jr. and Michael R. Kennedy, the One Run runners collected firefighter patches on their trip across the country. They presented the patches to Engine 33 Ladder 15 station on Boylston St. on Friday afternoon.

People in my hometown of Hollis, N.H., knitted 300 Boston Marathon-colored blue and yellow scarves and gave them to the Old South Church, which started the scarf-knitting project and is on the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston streets, just past the finish line. One of the Old South Church's member's sons was in the marathon and didn't finish, and the scarf project, which had people throughout the country knitting scarves, was to show him how she felt about him and his courage in running again. They were handed out Friday to runners, and a few police officers near the finish line were spotted wearing them proudly (it was chilly in Boston on Friday, so they came in handy). More will be handed out at an athletes' blessing service on Sunday evening before the marathon.

Mystic's Amby Burfoot is running for the Martin W. Richard charitable foundation. So is race director Dave McGillivray. Both are highly recognizable faces in the running world; both should raise a lot of money for the foundation, named for the little boy from Dorchester who died in the bombing, that will invest in education, athletics and community.

There was such an outpouring of good, just like there was after the Newtown shootings. That out of such tragedy and evil could come so much good and caring and giving was unfathomable. But there it was.

Now it's time for the marathon.

"Many of the survivors want to move forward, despite the challenges they continue to face," legendary marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson said. "I think we need to take their lead and move forward."

We all will. But we will never forget that day.

Featured Stories

Advertisement

PLAN AHEAD

Top Trending Videos