I spent much of yesterday in shock and disbelief. As the story and images of the tragedy of the Boston Marathon unfolded, I found myself clinging to a lifelong love, and to an eight-year-old victim who lost his life because he was taken to see that event.
It was on a beautiful spring day nearly a half-century ago that my father decided to take our family to see two of Boston's great hallmarks. I was not yet ten. The Prudential Tower had recently been completed and was the tallest building in the world outside of New York at that time. On its 50th floor was the Prudential Skywalk, which offered breathtaking views of the Hub. From one side, you could literally look into Fenway Park and see the Red Sox in action, from another, view Boston's historic Beacon Hill area and Boston Harbor beyond.
But that day, my late father wanted us to see more than the views of our beautiful capitol city. He wanted us to have a bird's eye view of its most iconic athletic event, the Boston Marathon. Back then the finish line was a few hundred yards from its present location and directly in front of "the Pru." My father knew that from the Skywalk you would truly have a bird's eye view of the finish of the great race 500 feet below. I remember him lifting me up so I could look straight down as the elite runners finished. That April day in the 1960's, my love affair with the Boston Marathon began.
Throughout college and graduate school, to my days living in Brookline and now my time at Boston College, I have gone to many marathons. For a number of years, I lived just one block from the race's route. My roommate and I would host a party after spending hours at the Marathon shouting almost non-stop encouragement to the runners.
I remember the days when hometown hero Bill Rodgers dominated the race and helped raise the popularity of running to an unprecedented level. I remember many occasions when the roar of the crowd signaled the approach of the legendary Johnny Kelley as he continued on his miraculous record-breaking streak completing more than 60 Boston Marathons. In the '70's and early '80's, sightings of the first woman runner were always moments of particular excitement. I even clearly remember being at the marathon in 1980 when "she who shall not be named" jumped into the race near its end to steal the winner's wreath from the true victor, the one who should have been remembered, Canadian runner Jacqueline Gareau.
All of us who love the Marathon remember the heroic efforts of so many early wheelchair participants, who struggled through 26.2 miles using standard wheelchairs, not the aerodynamic ones we see today. And of course we remember Team Hoyt, as father Dick pushed son Rick in a wheelchair to 30 Boston finishes, always in extraordinary completion times.
I was one of many who most enjoyed cheering for the also-rans. The ones whose times were slow, whose outfits were unique, who didn't possess a runner's physique. They were the ones who ran more on guts than on athletic ability. They were us. They were fulfilling a dream I held for many years to run Boston. If I never competed, I could at least offer my unbridled enthusiasm to those who ran for charity, or for fun, or for the opportunity to participate in one of the only great sporting events on earth that allows less than super athletes the chance to compete with the world's best.
But Patriots' Day, that uniquely Massachusetts holiday, is more than just the race. There's the re-enactment of the first battle of the Revolutionary War that was originally fought on April 19, 1775. Thousands awake in the middle of the night and stand for hours in the dark to see this historic re-enactment on Lexington Green that begins at dawn and is over in a matter of minutes. Our beloved Red Sox play a morning game allowing members of Red Sox Nation to exit Fenway in time to engage in the day's festivities. After the elite runners pass, fans, volunteers, and family members stay on to offer encouragement to those less elite runners who need it most. It is the women of Wellesley College cheering en masse, the crowds that line Heartbreak Hill on the slow, difficult rise to Boston College, and the thousands of gatherings and cookouts, large and small, that celebrate our beginning of spring.
At every Marathon I have attended I have felt blessed to be a Bostonian. In spite of the many difficulties that any major city faces, there was one day every year when Beantown and its surrounding neighbors came together to celebrate our history, our city, our day, our race and, above all, the triumph of the human spirit. I pray that spirit will help us transcend this terrible moment. It's hard to lose the innocence of a lifelong love and harder still to grasp the magnitude of all that's been lost because of this unforgiveable act. And hardest of all to think about an eight-year-old boy, on the first day of a lifelong love affair that would end before it was realized.