04/23/2013 02:11 pm ET Updated Jun 23, 2013

Back to the Running for the Healing


Crowds poured out into the streets around Boston last Friday night, cheers erupted, people embraced one another, and flags waved in the cool spring breeze. If you were somehow unaware of the latest developments of last week, and turned on the television at 8:50 p.m. EST, you would think Bostonians were celebrating the victory of one of their beloved sports teams. But everyone glued to the television since last Monday knows that these were the first public expressions of happiness since the Boston Marathon bombings that stopped runners and the nation immediately in their tracks.

Shock, grief, jubilation, and relief: these are the emotions that made last week feel like a marathon. Last Monday I ran and finished the marathon in 3:16:44, more than 30 minutes before the bombs detonated, feeling achy and with stiff legs. Days later, I returned to the finish line where a makeshift memorial showcased flowers, photos of victims, and shoes worn by runners during the race. There I was and still feeling mentally raw.

We may have finished the race but recovery is sometimes the hardest part and the most painful. Tragedy plagued the marathon but sports can help us heal as we show our solidarity and pay tribute to those who died, suffered injury, and those who risked their lives capturing 19-year-old suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev.

Healing Through Sport

In the 20th century, sport has played a critical role to lift our spirits and provide a sense of normalcy in the aftermath of a tragedy. On September 21, 2001, the New York Mets played the first professional sporting event after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At the bottom of the eighth inning, Mets catcher Mike Piazza hit the winning two-run homerun against the National League East division leader Atlanta Braves, giving the boost fans and New Yorkers desperately needed.

Even sporting events plagued by tragedy use the venue to mourn and begin the healing process. The 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, suffered great loss when the Palestinian militant group Black September took hostage and killed 11 members of the Israeli national team and a German police officer. A memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes in the Olympic Stadium heard outgoing International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage say, "The games must go on."

Sporting events within days of the Boston Marathon incident have been mending our broken hearts. Solidarity runs from San Francisco and Philadelphia to Danville, Va., have been organized to pay tribute to those three innocents who died and the nearly 200 who were injured by last Monday's blasts. Over the weekend, London marathoners paused for a moment of silence to honor the Boston victims.

On Thursday, steps from an interfaith service in Boston, people wore not just the blue and yellow 2013 Boston Marathon apparel, but clothing from previous years as indicated by other colors -- black, orange, red -- casting a rainbow of support and coming together with the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) logo.

Resilience and Culture of Running

We want to move forward but many remain wary because we were reminded that we live in a world where this can happen anywhere and at any time once again. This sentiment is paradoxical, a contradiction that is not dissimilar in culture of running. In the words of Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, "There's something so universal about that sensation, the way running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we're scared, we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time."

But we need to keep running to prove that Boston and the nation stand as one. Running is not just for the elite or the Olympian but the sport of the everyman: our insanely fit neighbor who hits the pavement at 5:00 a.m., our father who wants to make a dent on his "bucket list," and our friend who took up running to prove that there is life after cancer.

According to Running USA, marathon finishers have increased at an average of 2.5 percent per year for the past 15 years. In 2012, it was estimated that 487,000 people finished a marathon, and 518,000 the year before. The increased participation suggests that the dedication and perseverance of marathon running strikes a chord with the Americans that I believe transcends racing and the activity itself: it captures the moments when we surprise ourselves and the strength we did not know existed.

Last week during the interfaith service in Boston, President Barack Obama declared that the city "will run again" and "we will finish the race." We may have finished the race but we must keep running out for those who suffered -- the victims and their families, the runners left on the course, and the kids along the marathon route who hold out orange slices to runners whose Patriots' Day experience will never be the same. We must keep running to work through the pain.