All athletes have dreams.
Football players want to play in the Super Bowl. Golfers want to win the Masters. And many runners want to compete in the Olympics.
For most athletes in those sports, the dream often goes unfulfilled. But unlike a lot of sports, running offers an elite level competition to the masses: the marathon.
The marathon is a grueling event, but you don’t have to be naturally athletic to run in one, so long as you have the fortitude to travel 26.2 miles on foot. Some people decide they like running marathons, and often their objective shifts to qualifying for the most prestigious race of its type in the world: the one run every April in Boston.
The 2013 Boston Marathon has dominated the news for weeks now. Two bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line April 15, killing three people—all younger than 30—and injuring more than 260. The attack and the subsequent manhunt for the perpetrator shut the Boston area down for a week and likely left a mark on many forever.
But, if the Boston Marathon has taught us anything in its 116-year history, it’s that with adversity comes an opportunity to prevail over it.
That sounds cliché, but the Boston Marathon has a knack for churning out stories that prove it true. They are stories like the one about Dick and Rick Hoyt, who have run 31 Boston Marathons together. In each of those races, Dick, now 72, pushed at specialized wheelchair holding his son. Rick has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal; it was his idea to run the first marathon to prove that life has value even if you’re confined to a wheelchair. (For a great take on the Hoyts, check out Gary Smith’s story from the April 18, 2011 edition of Sports Illustrated; it’s available at the magazine’s website, si.com.)
This year’s marathon was to be their last, but Dick told the Today Show that the duo have decided to return again in 2014, to honor the victims of the attack.
Even in Hamilton, there are stories.
Jennifer Herring, a 38-year-old Hamilton resident, has competed in 18 marathons. She’s also legally blind.
She competed in this year’s marathon—her ninth time running Boston—with a group called “Team With A Vision.” Blind, visually impaired and sighted athletes joined the team to raise money and awareness for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. According to a biography on the MAB website, Herring has long loved running and uses it as a way to inspire others.
“I started telling people in elementary school that I would be in the Olympics,” she said in a quote from the biography. “I call the Boston Marathon my Olympics.”
Herring finished the 2013 Boston Marathon in 3:44:54, which meant she crossed the line about 25 minutes before the attack. A MAB spokesperson told me Herring made it out of the area safely.
Another Hamilton resident, Keith Lex, competed in this year’s marathon. Lex finished in 3:03:08—a pace of 6:59 per mile—and was with his wife about 50 miles outside of Boston when he heard there had been explosions at the marathon.
“My wife was standing 10 yards from the spot of the first explosion, trying to catch a glimpse of me in the final 25 yards of the marathon … It’s terrifying to think of all of the circumstances that brought us to the finish line on that day, where we narrowly avoided catastrophe,” Lex said in an email April 16. “I would be teaching in the classroom if it was any other Monday, and I’m grateful to be back in my classroom today, where I’ve received a very warm welcome back from my colleagues and students.”
Lex, 29, is an English teacher and the cross-country and boys’ track coach at Burlington Township High School. He said running in the Boston Marathon had been a goal of his for the past three years.
He qualified for the 2013 Boston Marathon at the Philadelphia Marathon in November 2011. His time in Boston this year qualified him to run in next year’s Boston Marathon. He’s unsure if he’ll do it as of now, even though he has twice accomplished something many marathoners dream of doing.
“Qualifying for the race is the one common dream that most runners share,” Lex said.
It’s a dream that extends to people beyond what we imagine are “athletes.”
One of the more widely seen images of the explosions in Boston was of a runner in his late 70s being knocked to the ground by the first blast. A photo of the man crumpled to the ground with three Boston Police officers surrounding him graced the cover of the April 22 edition of Sports Illustrated. What the man did after that photograph was taken, though, is more powerful and symbolic.
With a little help, he stood up. Then, he stabilized himself, ran the last stretch of the race and finished the marathon.
There are tales of so many good deeds in the aftermath of the explosions: volunteers and police bucking instinct and running toward the blasts, runners finishing the race and then running another two miles to the nearest hospital to give blood, strangers simply consoling each other. All of these provide some hope that the majority of humanity hasn’t come unhinged.
I have the fullest faith that Boston will—and already has—taken its cue from these. With a little help, the city will get back on its feet, stabilize itself and keep on running.
And that’s the Boston Marathon is all about, after all—perseverance.