Posts Tagged ‘Boston bombings’

This is our fucking city.  And nobody is going to dictate our freedom.  Stay strong.
– David “Big Papi” Ortiz, Boston Red Sox designated hitter

And with that, standing 15 miles and 238 years removed from the original, David Ortiz fired his own shot heard ’round the world.

Ortiz and his Red Sox teammates are icons of Boston sports culture.  But in his pregame address before the team took the field against Kansas City on Saturday, Ortiz was talking to a far wider audience than the 35,152 battle-tested fans in attendance at Fenway Park.

Because this past week, Boston truly was our city.  Boston was San Francisco’s city.  Boston was Chicago’s city.  Boston was Denver’s city, Miami’s city and New Orleans’ city.  Boston was even New York City’s city, as proclaimed by the “United We Stand” banner sporting dual Yankees and Red Sox logos that hung outside Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.

Over the course of a 102-hour period from Monday afternoon to Friday evening, we were barraged by thousands of graphic images of real-time chaos, tragedy and implausible strength.  We were warned to avert our eyes from some images, while being asked to look very carefully at others.  Thousands of pictures worth millions of words, as news agencies – including CNN with its bumbling, stumbling impression of a rabid dog chasing its tail – hustled to force-feed us those words and many more.  Meanwhile, those of us in the running community struggled to make sense of and assign words to our own swirling emotions.

Yet two words quickly rose above the turmoil: Boston Strong.  Two words worth a thousand pictures.  Two words to drive home the point that, as we approach our 237th birthday, each new terrorist threat to these States of America only serves to reaffirm and reinforce the fact that the U. remains an inextricable partner of the S.A.

With that in mind, and before this blog moves in a different direction, I wanted to share 10 unforgettable images and stories from a week that, to me, showcased and immortalized what it means to be Boston Strong:

Four we won’t forget
Krystle Campbell (29), Martin Richard (8) and Lu Lingzi (23) were killed in Monday’s bombings.  MIT campus patrol officer Sean Collier (26) was shot and killed in the line of duty by the Tsarnaev brothers on Thursday.  Donations can be made to the Krystle M. Campbell Memorial Fund, the Richard Family Fund, the Lu Lingzi Scholarship Fund at Boston University, and under Officer Collier’s name to The Jimmy Fund:


In addition, The One Fund Boston, Inc. has been established by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino to provide financial support for all those directly affected by the week’s tragic events.

Bill Iffrig and the bombing of Boylston Street (Monday)
Bill Iffrig (circled at top, and in orange tanktop at bottom) was seconds from finishing his third Boston Marathon when shock waves from the first explosion knocked him to the ground.  After being helped to his feet by a race official, the 78-year-old Washington resident finished the marathon under his own power.  Iffrig’s story has come to symbolize the city of Boston’s endurance and resolve in the aftermath of Monday’s madness:

Finish line_MS

© 2013 The New York Times Company

Bill Iffrig-Boston Globe

(AP Photo/The Boston Globe, John Tlumacki)

Jeff Bauman, hero (Monday)
Jeff Bauman was standing at the marathon finish line to cheer on his girlfriend when Tamerlan Tsarnaev dropped a backpack containing a bomb at his feet.  Despite losing both legs in the explosion and waking up in the hospital heavily drugged, Bauman (shown here being rushed from the scene by a paramedic and two volunteers, including Carlos Arredondo in the cowboy hat) immediately asked for a pen and paper on which he wrote, “bag, saw the guy, looked right at me.”  His subsequent identification of Tsarnaev was the breakthrough FBI investigators needed to finger Tsarnaev and his brother Dzhokhar as prime suspects:

Jeff Bauman

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Man comforts bombing victim (Monday)
I don’t know whether they knew each other before Monday or whether this is their first meeting, but without question this is one of the most poignant images to emerge from the day’s harsh surreality:


Détente in the Bronx (Tuesday)
As much as I hate to admit it, the New York Yankees are a classy organization.  New York’s show of solidarity with its normally bitter rival was on full display on the outer facade of Yankee Stadium before Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The team recognized a moment of silence for the bombing victims, and the stadium’s PA system played Fenway favorite “Sweet Caroline” as fans sang along at the end of the third inning:


Four days later, the two cities set aside their similarities for 48 minutes as the Knicks defeated the Celtics in game one of their NBA playoffs series.  Don’t get cocky New York, it’s only one game.

Manhunt in the streets of Boston (Friday)
Boston residents were ordered to “shelter-in-place” as authorities pursued bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The lockdown left the streets of Boston and its surrounding suburbs eerily empty and quiet, as exemplified by this photo of Kenmore Square tweeted by Andrew Golden:


The Boston Police Department: “CAPTURED!!!” (Friday)
This tweet, time-stamped 8:58pm EDT on Friday April 19, says it all:


It’s his f@&#ing city, too
He’s David Ortiz’s kind of kid: I’ve had this picture on my hard drive for several years now, and usually call on it to harass my friends once the baseball playoffs begin.  Before I get called out for my naïvete, yes I realize he’s a promiscuous kid and can be found online wearing pretty much any team’s jersey.  But to me the sentiment is so perfect and so… Boston, particular now, that this list wouldn’t feel right without him:

Red Sox fan

Boston Bruins fans sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” (Wednesday)
In the first professional sporting event in Boston since the bombings, Boston Bruins’ fans joined in and then overwhelmed Rene Rancourt as he sang the national anthem.  If this doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, or at least a gaggle of goosebumps to your skin, I can only assume you just awoke from a 102-hour slumber:

And I leave you with one final image, a collective sentiment that will continue to resonate with runners everywhere long after the debris on Boylston has been cleared away… after all, Boston is our fucking city:


The One Fund Boston, Inc. was established “to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013.”  Please give generously.

We’ll keep training harder, for the people who perished today.
– Wesley Korir, 2012 Boston Marathon winner

BAA logo

It shouldn’t have to be this way.

I was ready to publish a much different post today.  It was (and still will be) a post about my most recent marathon experience, a literal example of how I’ll go to the end of the earth and back for a sport I love.  Like a digital carpenter I’d plied the tools of the blogging trade in referencing the grueling workouts, the frequent ups and downs, the thrill of accomplishment, the rapturous sense of being a better person for having given everything I had to give for 26.2 miles.  But more than anything, I’d chronicled the camaraderie that emerges when a diverse collection of like-minded individuals strives toward and achieves a common goal.

But then, in a cruel twist of fate, it was that sense of camaraderie that got kicked in the gut by yesterday’s gruesome and tragic events at the 117th Boston Marathon, where two explosions near the finish line killed three people and injured at least 176 others.  And in seconds, all perspective changed.

Clearly running means a lot to me – I spend a lot of time sharing my thoughts on the sport and my involvement in it.  But the city of Boston is also ingrained in my constitution – my father was born and raised in Newton, MA, roughly 5 miles from the marathon finish on Boylston Street.  I’m a lifelong Celtics and Red Sox fan.  And despite The Onion’s recent decidedly Onion-like portrayal of Beantowners as “playing their adorable little game of ‘Big City’ “, Boston is a dynamic and storied place, and one of the few East Coast cities that doesn’t make me immediately want to leave.

So understandably, as I sat 3,000 miles away in the safety of my living room, a maelstrom of raw emotions gripped me in the aftermath of the bombings:

Sadness and empathy – for the three individuals who lost their lives for no other reason than that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for all those directly affected by the wanton bloodshed of the day’s events.

Sadness, too, that nobody is talking about how Kenya and Ethiopia once again dominated both the men’s and women’s marathon, or how Americans Jason Hartmann and Shalane Flanagan captured strong fourth-place finishes.  Before 3:00pm EDT, I had to root around on the homepage just to find race results – ESPN was so disinterested that coverage of the WNBA draft trumped the marathon.  Thirty minutes later Boston was dominating the website’s headlines for all the wrong reasons, and suddenly my desire for more in-depth marathon coverage was perversely granted.  And now I long for the day when “explosion” isn’t the top choice among Google’s Autocomplete suggestions when I type in “Boston Marathon.”

Shock – at stark images of blood-strewn sidewalks and first-hand accounts from runners like Roupen Bastajian, a Rhode Island state trooper and former Marine who crossed the finish line just before the first explosion and then hurried to help other runners.  “These runners just finished and they don’t have legs now,” Bastajian said. “So many of them. There are so many people without legs. It’s all blood. There’s blood everywhere. You got bones, fragments. It’s disgusting. It’s like a war zone.”

Sympathy – for the entire city of Boston, whose distinctive pride and spirit – as embodied by their own distinctive holiday – should have been on full celebratory display yesterday in front of an international audience.

Violation – for the ravaged innocence of my sport and its flagship event, neither of which can ever get it back.  I don’t look forward to the new and perverted definition of normalcy that awaits us at future marathons.

Anger – at the (to this point) faceless cowards whose own misguided anger motivated such a senseless and unconscionable act of – just typing the word makes me angry – terrorism.

Finish line

© 2013 The New York Times Company

Shortly after the news broke I received concerned text messages from several friends wanting to make sure Katie and I were okay.  I appreciated their thinking I was fast enough to qualify for Boston, even though the closest I’ve come so far was the 5 miles I bandited during my brother’s 3:14:05 effort in 1998.

Nonetheless like most runners, I knew several people who would be among the select few racing in Boston this year.  My sister-in-law qualified this year and even registered for the race before deciding to sit it out.  Based on her standard marathon finish time of around 4 hours, she likely would have been finishing around the time chaos engulfed Boylston Street.

Several friends in this year’s race had already finished and left the Copley Square area before the bombings.  And another friend, whom I was fortunate to meet just last month, was leading a blind runner and had just passed mile 25.5 when the first explosion forced them off the course.  Fortunately for both him and his running mate, there will be other Bostons.  Not so for the 8-year-old boy and two others who were killed by the blasts.

It’s unclear at this point who is responsible for the carnage that dominated Copley Square in the latter stages of yesterday’s marathon.  It’s unclear whether they were targeting a particular person or group of persons, the Boston Athletic Association, the marathon event itself, Patriots’ Day as a symbolic holiday, or perhaps even the entire city of Boston.

But what is clear is that the sport of running is forever changed.  Not in the sense of big obvious changes such as beefed-up security at major events, though that will inevitably happen.  Rather, I worry about more subtle and insidious changes to psychology as doubt and hesitation creep in, replacing the easy confidence of some runners who find themselves racing in large crowded venues.  Am I really comfortable doing this?, they will ask.  Others who qualify to race in Boston next year may very well decline the opportunity.

It shouldn’t have to be this way.

I experienced September 11, 2001 with a sense of surreal detachment, as though like a movie all the events I saw unfolding on television would cease to be and life would return to normal as soon as I turned off my set.  I wasn’t directly affected on a personal level by the 9/11 attacks, and so honestly I always felt removed from the situation, like a zoo patron watching tigers feed from behind the glass.

But even though I still live in Northern California as I did then, Boston feels more personal.  Not only because of my history with the city, but because the running community really is an extended family.  If you don’t believe me, lose yourself for an hour in the intricately woven web of the running blogosphere.  Or check out the sheer number of “Team In Training” runners at your next local marathon.  Or spend some time with a group of Marathon Maniacs… you’ll wonder how you ever had fun without running 26.2 miles.

The runners who line up in Hopkinton and finish in downtown Boston 26.2 miles later are the best of the best.  The vast majority of them I don’t know and will never meet.  But as one who shares their passion, I understand and appreciate the sacrifices – not to mention the fartleks, hill repeats, tempo work, icing, stretching, compression and “vitamin I” (ibuprofen) doses – required of those who chase the elusive unicorn.

They’re tall, short, young, old, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, leaders, followers, Nike aficionados and Saucony loyalists.  They’re strange friends to some and friendly strangers to others.  They’re the elites I emulate, the bloggers I follow, the weekend warriors I cheer.  They’re all very different, yet very much the same.  And regardless of race, creed, age, gender, color, nationality, religion, disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or even marathon finish time, they’re my people.  One nation, indivisible, with fast starts and strong finishes for all.

And so I can add to the list one more emotion that gripped me in the aftermath of Monday’s tragedy: Certainty.  Certainty that both the fiercely proud city of Boston and the equally strong-willed running community will rally together behind yesterday’s tragic events.  Certainty that an unambiguous message will be sent to those responsible, the message that after all the literal blood, sweat and tears we put into training for, qualifying for and preparing for this race; the tireless hard work and dedication we put year after year into maintaining the Boston Marathon as the oldest annual marathon and most prestigious organized foot race in the world; and the unwavering focus we put into doing things our own way – after all that, you think two bombs can demolish our dreams and deter us from our mission?

I look forward to proving you wrong.

My original post for today will appear in a few days.  In the meantime, the city of Boston and those of us who define ourselves as runners will slowly but surely return to life as usual.  For many – myself included – that life will continue to boast the same ambitious and overriding goal: to qualify for Boston.  And hopefully one day, all of us not-yet-fast-enough marathoners will again be able to say resolutely and without a hint of twisted irony, “I’d give my left arm to run Boston.”

It shouldn’t have to be this way.