30 minutes from the Boston Marathon bombing
When I started the day my central concern was whether or not my legs would carry me the full 26.2 miles — how trivial that worry was in the wake of the terror attack which would occur
On Monday, I lined up with thousands of other runners in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, for the running of the 117th Boston Marathon. It was my first Boston run and my excitement was tempered by the fact I was running injured and not sure my legs would carry me the full 26.2 miles.
The thought of not finishing and the ensuing potential disappointment was the central concern I had on that crisp, cool morning.
How trivial that worry was in the wake of the terror attack on the marathon.
I’ve been running my whole life. In my household it has become a lifestyle. My three children were Division I runners — when they were younger my wife took up running because the rest of us were out on the trails or roads and she wanted to see what the fuss what about. Soon she was hooked. Even our little Jack Russell terrier goes out on long runs with my oldest daughter.
Running has been a joy for us as a family and a metaphor for so many challenges in life. Now, now, that joy has lost its innocence.
At Boston I wore my New York State Police running singlet as I have at many other races. I’m proud of my service and the continuing service of the troopers and investigators who work round the clock to keep New Yorkers safe.
There were other first responders in the race, cops, firemen, EMTs, and of course military. It was Patriot’s Day — the people of Boston and the surrounding towns along the route were showing their pride and why their marathon is a world class event.
As I and scores of other runners made our way to the finish line the crowds were our inspiration. We all run for different reasons and different causes, but there is no denying the ultimate goal of running up Hereford Street and making that turn onto Boylston Street for the last stretch of the marathon.
I had run that path the day before on a brief final “shake-out” run before the main event. Boylston Street was packed with people four deep along the sidewalks as they shopped, ate and took in the sights. Many posed for pictures at the finish line.
As I ran I visualized the race day crowds to be even deeper and the noise deafening. There was no surprise, then, on Marathon Monday as I came down Boylston Street and crossed the finish line, making my way into an area that would be a kill zone in less than a half-hour.
The last conceivable thought on the minds of anyone affiliated with the marathon that day could have been the possibility of a terror attack. Surely it wasn’t even a remote thought to my wife and I as we walked out of the finisher’s area and heard the blasts.
I had already retrieved my clothing bag from one of the busses and changed into dry clothes. Fortunately my wife had located me among the scores of indistinguishable runners wrapped in heat blankets.
Only 20 minutes earlier she had been in the location of the second blast.
We heard the explosion as we stood on a corner and waited for the light to change. Downtown Boston was teeming with people. Many unknowingly the random intended targets of a vicious and evil plan. When the blast occurred I thought it was a sewer cap eruption, an occurrence I had experienced a few times as a kid growing up in the Bronx.
My wife said it sounded like a cannon. No worries though, since it was Patriot’s Day and there were people dressed in colonial attire along the finish. Soon those seemingly-innocent explanations for the loud booms disappeared as sirens wailed through the streets and helicopters circled above. Cell service was sporadic and unreliable.
Public transportation on the “T” was shut down. Runners still out on the course were stopped at the 25 mile mark and diverted away from the finish line which had become a crime scene. Another race had begun, this time it was to save lives as police, fire and medical crews sprang into action.
That was a sprint — another marathon would come in which investigation into this unspeakable crime would methodically unfold. In a world in which we all want information quickly the answers to “who?” and “why?” would have to wait.
This was a major crime scene in a major American city — local and federal law enforcement were not going to let this go unanswered or unresolved, but they were going to make sure it was done right.
Marathon runners put in many months of long, arduous training and know that when it matters most their preparations get them to the finish line. Our first responders are no different — when it matters most their training and expertise is what gets the job done and what we all rely on to get us through these rough times.
As people walked away from the expanding downtown crime scene there was a collective numbness and bewilderment as to what had just occurred. Families were scrambling to meet up with relatives and assure each other’s safety.
Unfortunately, not every family would escape Boylston Street unscathed.
No statement, however, could have been more profound at that moment as the spectator who passed me on Commonwealth Avenue walking silently among the crowd with an American flag raised high above his head. A silent call to unity was being broadcast. This is what we are as a nation — a varied, diverse cosmopolitan whole that will stand up to terror and its root causes.
But this is also the new world of policing that we have encountered in little more than a decade. A world wherein our first responders do not just have to be vigilant for drunks in the crowd or heat exhausted runners but those whose evil minds are intent on destruction.