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Katherine Gergen Barnett, MD Headshot

One Step in Front of the Other

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The Boston Globe painted a picture of the 118th Boston Marathon. The blur of color, the waves of flags, the thunderous shouts and cowbells cheering runners on, the firehouse honoring recent fallen firefighters packed with strangers and friends alike in support and solidarity, the heartfelt hugs and sobs bursting through the moment of silence held at 2:49 PM.

The elite runners trial to the end -- a minute by minute recounting of their journey through the five towns through the final tunnels and out up onto Boylston Street. The injured of last year showing their enormous strength and courage in front of thousands if not millions of observers.

All eyes were on Boston on Marathon Monday and, in the words of an Emergency Room doctor who had been at the front lines of last years' horrid violence, said that at this year's medical tent "I was almost bored and it was a beautiful thing to behold." The leaves were budding, the beer was flowing, the sun was shining and voices were getting horse from cheering. What was not written about and perhaps will never be captured are all the small stories along the way. Though we heard with heartbreaking and warming details the stories of some, each of the 31,878 names printed in the paper on Tuesday had a story of what brought them to the Boston Marathon this year.

Having fractured my pelvis in two places while training for the marathon, I walked the whole thing. Being a mother of three young children and a physician in a busy inner city hospital, walking is not my natural inclination. Running and running fast (hence the fracture) is the pace I like. But being forced to a walk was the greatest gift I could have imagined. From this pace, I saw with startling vividness the faces cheering us on, the grimaces of runners passing me, the taped injuries of many people's legs, the medical tents filled with people, the policemen and armed military guards watching over us on the course.

There were countless children with hands outstretched for a "high five" and palms curled gently around large orange slices. There were older citizens reclined in chairs, faces have turned up to the sun and half smiling at the runners, enjoying where they were in that moment.

One runner whom I passed said it was her 27th year running -- she was older than my mother and tough as nails. I walked over half the course with an older gentleman named Charlie who was in the unlikely marathon gear of a 1970s tracksuit who shared with me that many years ago running was the only thing that saved him from his alcoholism and his joblessness. It was one foot in front of the other, both literally and metaphorically and it was his 15th Boston Marathon.

A dear friend was galloping miles ahead of me and running for Spaulding Rehab. She was planning on stopping multiple times along the way to "thank the people that put me back together." Just 2½ years ago she was hit by a car and not expected to survive. A physician herself, she was saved by brave EMS workers, physicians, surgeons and rehab providers. Filled with titanium, she was now running 8 ½ minute miles.

Each of us -- whether runner, walker or spectator -- was part of the vibrant tapestry of this year's Marathon. The soul of Boston was exposed and it is a beautiful one. Tears of pain and remembrance were shed as well as new tears of joy and redemption. Our city will never be the same. We have proved together that we are "Boston Strong" and now I cannot imagine being more "Boston Proud."

Dr. Katherine Gergen Barnett was part of Boston Medical Center's Boston Strong team, raising money for BMC's Emergency Room.