Shock tainted the way Hal Higdon processed the happenings as he scoured the coverage of Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon.
This hit close to home for the 81-year-old resident of Long Beach, near Michigan City.
In 1964, Higdon was the first American finisher at Boston. He has run the 26.2-mile race 18 times, scattered over the years. The last was the event’s 100th anniversary in 1996.
“The Boston Marathon has been part of my life,” Higdon said.
Monday’s scenario was almost part of his recent novel.
A couple years ago, Higdon published a novel titled, “Marathon.” He said it is loosely based on the Chicago Marathon. While he was writing the outline for the book, he had included a subplot in which a car bomb was detonated on the course.
“Race officials have a 26-mile, 385-yard course to protect,” Higdon said. “Nobody can protect that. The watch zone for spectators is so large.”
Higdon, though, had second thoughts. From the outline to the final draft, he chose not to include that portion.
“I didn’t want to give anyone any ideas,” Higdon said. “Right now, I’m really glad I didn’t put it in the book. This is terrible.”
Terrible for the United States. Terrible for the running community.
“I guess I’m surprised it has taken this long for something bad to happen,” Higdon said. “This world changed about a dozen years ago (with 9/11). People will be more nervous now.”
“If these terrorists were trying to intimidate anyone, they picked on the wrong athletes,” said Dowagiac’s Ron Gunn. “If I know most runners, something like this is going to p*** them off more than anything. You’re dealing with some pretty tough cookies.”
Gunn is one of those tough cookies. For years he coached the marathon teams at Southwestern Michigan College. Also, he is the founding father of Steve’s Run, a road race nearly four decades old.
His stake in the tragedy in Boston was quite personal.
Ron’s daughter Sarah Gunn, 27, was on the course, about a mile from the finish, when the explosions happened. Sarah, who graduated from Edwardsburg High School, lives in Brookline, Mass., and is a student in the medical journalism program at Tufts University.
“I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster today,” Ron said, his voice cracking. “If it would have been her normal time (about 4 hours, 9 minutes), she would have been at the finish when it exploded. She was doing a spectator run, about 15 minutes slower, just taking it easy.”
Gunn said soon after the explosion there were cell phone problems around Boston, but he did get a text saying she was OK.
“She was upset because she wanted to finish,” Gunn said.
Tough cookies don’t fall far from the tree.
“The first part of all this is the theater,” Gunn said. “Terrorists want the attention. To do this in Boston on Patriot’s Day, it doesn’t get much bigger. That’s the society we live in now. It’s a different world since 9/11.”
That doesn’t mean Gunn would ever advise anyone to cower to the threat.
“I would never tell anyone, family or friends, not to do something because of a fear of terrorism,” Gunn said. “I don’t want any member of my family to ever back down.”
Tough cookies don’t easily crumble.
Staff writer Al Lesar: