A moment of heartfelt reflection at the Run For Boston event in Louisville, Kentucky
Yesterday marked a full week since the senseless bombing of the Boston Marathon. I would be lying to you if I sat here and said that I wasn’t affected. As human beings, all of us were, in some way, touched by what happened near that finish line.
Boston is about 970 miles away from Louisville, Kentucky. But the instant I heard about those explosions at the marathon, it felt like my own world was falling apart. It’s hard to explain the wave of emotions that I’ve been feeling over the past week. This tragic event literally took my legs out from under me. I couldn’t watch the news, but I wanted to be informed. I cried so much this past week, fought back tears when I had to, and just couldn’t get the events at Boston off my mind or my heart. I was heartbroken over what occurred.
I am the granddaughter of a marathoner. That running bug must have skipped a generation, but I caught it. And I have never stopped falling in love with the simple act of running. In fact, if it’s even possible, in the two years I have been running, I might have learned to love this sport more than anything else I have ever done. More than my art, my photography, and yes…even my cooking. There is something so primitive, but so empowering about a run.
It’s not to say every run is a good run, but let’s face it…there are more good runs than bad runs. And a bad run is just another reason to get up the next day and try it again. It doesn’t stay bad forever.
Neither do life changing events. The bombing of the Boston Marathon, for me, was life changing. I know I wasn’t there…but my heart and soul were. It’s hard to explain what I mean, but as a runner who aspired to one day be fast enough to qualify for this race (my grandpa never had the chance to run it, but he always wanted to), a part of me was there, with the runners, with the crowd. Cheering the elite. Cheering those that came after them. The spirit of a runner is unbridled, and where there is a race, a part of each of us are there…carried in the hearts, minds, and the soles (get it?) of each runner there. Whether they know it or not…we are with them. We’re part of this tightly-knit group, and while we don’t know everyone out there who thinks like us and finds joy in the act of running, we know they are out there. And every race that runs is proof of that.
The Boston Marathon…is the crème de la crème of marathons. It has a deep tradition to upkeep, and a history that is like no other race out there. And, on April 15, 2013, at 2:50 p.m., explosions tore through the finish area. And the Boston Marathon was brought to a halt. And with it…the world of every runner who was either there, or watching, or following online…stopped with it.
970 miles between Louisville and Boston.
And something great emerges from the ashes. Something that the running community here in Louisville really, really needed.
You see, the owner of Fleet Feet Louisville, Jeff Wells, was at Boston. He had crossed the finish line about 30 minutes before the blasts went off. In fact, he was on his way back to his hotel, near the site of the second explosion, when it all went down. His story is moving…and inspiring. And what Jeff did when he returned to Boston was start to share his story. And from that…a movement grew.
He said it countless times in interviews. “We are unstoppable.”
Three simple words, that I really needed to hear. The Boston Marathon might have been stopped…but we, the running community, are unstoppable.
From there, a movement began. Jeff began to talk to the other four running stores in the area…his competitors in sales…but his brothers on the road. Blue Mile, Swags, Pacers and Racers, Ken Combs…they all began talking and putting together this idea…of taking their running groups for a run to commemorate the victims of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. All proceeds raised from the run would benefit Boston’s The One Fund.
It was brilliant. And the entire Louisville running community was bolstered by the very idea of having such an event. The initial plan was to meet at Waterfront Park, and for 26.2 minutes, run, pausing at 6:26 p.m. for a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. The run would happen on the newly opened pedestrian bridge. Any and all levels were welcome. Runners, walkers…whoever wanted to be a part of the event…and help make a donation toward The One Fund.
The event, however, got too big. And with Derby season in full swing here in Louisville, the city couldn’t get us a permit for such a large gathering. Subsequently, the event was cancelled. The stores still planned to do their memorial runs…but from each respective store…and that would be that.
But Jeff wasn’t giving up. He talked to the other stores, and what they came up with was the best alternative and what culminated into one of the most moving moments of my life. The five local running stores all agreed to leave from their respective stores, or from a meeting place for those further away (they chose the bathrooms at Seneca Park) to run into Cherokee Park and come together at Hogan’s Fountain at 6:26 to observe a moment of silence for what happened in Boston.
I met up with my Monday running group at BlueMile…and soon the store was overflowing with runners and walkers who were looking to participate in the event. Cathy accompanied me…with a cowbell that she tied up with blue and yellow yarn (the colors of the BAA), and a sign that the two of us worked on for her to hold at the event. Let’s face it…Cathy is one of the best when it comes to crowd support at races…with cowbell and sign always in hand. She left early to drive up to Hogan’s Fountain and get situated. She was the first one there. She had her sign. And soon…people started finding her.
My group left BlueMile about 15 minutes before the meetup, giving people time to run up the hill to Hogan’s Fountain and catch their breath before the moment of observance for Boston. A local news crew was out, and the BlueMile group was filmed on their trek up to Cherokee Park. The climb up the hill felt somewhat easier than usual. And when we reached the top…when Hogan’s Fountain was in view…there was a sea of humanity gathered around. Media was there, taking pictures and filming, and runners were mingling and talking.
I spotted Cathy near the fountain and ran over to talk to her and a few other runners nearby. Soon, Jeff arrived with the Fleet Feet group. I finally was able to give him a hug. It was one of the best hugs ever. I felt…better. Then, the five running store owners came together to say a few words. The prelude to the 6:26 moment of silence was given by the man in charge of Team Sweaty Sheep, a Christian group of athletes (runners, walkers, bikers), who said a few words than encouraged everyone to take a moment to reflect on Boston. And with that…the hundreds of runners, walkers, and bikers…fell silent. All I could hear was the shutter of a camera nearby. And that stopped a second later. Silence.
It’s hard to explain what I felt in that moment. A wave of emotion just swept over me. My shoulders shuddered a little as a few silent tears fell. I drew in a deep breath, and my heart felt…lighter. And, after a minute passed, we were sent off to do what we do best. Run.
I felt better. All last week, my emotions were all over the place. I would run sad, run angry, run to break away, run to feel…something. This time…in the cool spring breeze, in the sunshine that was shining down through the trees in Cherokee Park…I smiled. I hadn’t found joy in my run since the bombings occurred. I felt like the darkness was leaving. I felt…lighter. I ran 3.25 miles that night…back up the hill to Hogan’s Fountain to meet up with Cathy. I ran them easy. No need for speed. I needed to reflect, feel, and more importantly…smile again.
That small moment of time meant the world to me. I am so proud to have been a part of that gathering. I needed to be. Because, I have been scrambling to come to terms with the senseless act of violence at the Boston Marathon. I said it before…had I been running…my friends, my family, my roommate (and biggest fan), could have been standing right there. It’s a fact that isn’t lost on me. It is a fact that I am constantly reminded of whenever a replay of those explosions comes onto the news.
It can be a scary world out there…but we’re runners. And what Jeff said was true…
We are unstoppable.
When runners get knocked down, they get back up. They keep going. When runners can’t get back up…other runners carry them. It’s what we do. When we have no strength left…we somehow find it. Deep inside us. It’s there. And it’s that strength that is going to see us through these hard times. It’s that strength that sends us out to races still. The organizer of the Super Sprint Triathlon I participated in on Sunday said something else that resonated with me. He said that our participation and our simple act of being at the event showed that we would not be bullied. Runners are strong. They have to be…especially distance runners. It’s mind over matter.
Some wounds take time to heal. I’m not saying I’m whole again, but I’m on the mend. No longer is my spirit broken, because my soul is that of a runner. And when the road seems long and the miles ahead endless…I just keep going. I keep pushing. I find my strong. I pick up my feet, I set my gaze ahead, and I overcome.
That’s what happened in Louisville on Monday night at 6:26 p.m. We all came together…for whatever reasons we were drawn there…and we showed Boston our love and hope for the future of their city and the Boston Marathon. We made donations to their charity. We put in miles…some of us for the first time in years. And, we came away from it changed. Events like this change you…whether you were there or not. When you are part of such a tightly knit community like the running community…the ties that bind are so much more than the laces on your shoes.
We are runners. We are unstoppable.
Boston…Louisville stands strong with you. There may be 970 miles of road between us…but last night…we were at that finish line at Copley Square. Last night…we remembered what you endured a week ago. And we were all moved and touched. Did you feel the love? If not…listen closely…hundreds of running shoes pounded the pavement for you. You might still hear the echoes of it. Because we all did it…together.