Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 24, 2014

Joy At The Finish Line

A NOTE TO READERS:  A reflection on last year’s Boston Marathon tragedy can be found here: https://onsportsandlife.com/2013/04/18/evil-at-the-finish-line/

It’s been nearly half a century since Joni Mitchell first reminded us that we are all captives on the carousel of time. Yet even as the seasons go round and round we are forever faced with events that we think will make time stop. Surely that was the case on that Monday afternoon last April, when evil descended upon Boylston Street and the triumph and joy of exhausted amateur runners staggering home to finish the Boston Marathon was suddenly replaced by death and gore. The terrible twin explosions were seared into the permanent consciousness of many both at the scene and all across New England.

Yet the awful moment passed, and time did not stand still. There was the immediate urgency of the ensuing chaos, followed by the uncertain days of the manhunt. The constantly moving calendar marked the tragic sadness of funerals for four innocents, and the grueling rehabilitation and slow recovery for the scores of wounded. In the weeks that followed there were repeated examples of a city coming together, a populace rallying as one to prove that “Boston Strong” was more than a mere screen-printed slogan on a tee-shirt.

Spring gave way to summer and attention turned to the old bandbox of a ballpark that sits less than a mile west of the Marathon’s finish line. There the 2013 Red Sox, picked by almost no one as likely contenders, went from 93 losses the previous season to 97 wins and the best home record in the American League. As the chill of fall filled the air the citizenry rejoiced and the duck boats rolled in parade to celebrate Boston’s third World Series title in a decade.

Winter came to New England, a particularly harsh and mean season this year. It held the region in a firm and icy grip, and was loath to let go. But even winter cannot defeat the moving calendar, and slowly but surely the snow melted and the days grew longer, until once again Boston and New England awoke to find that the third Monday in April had returned.

One year ago it was thought that this day and this event would never be the same, and it should always be remembered that for some that is absolutely true. The very words “moving on” must sound like an obscenity to those who will never again hear the voice of a brother, or a daughter, or a friend. The well-meaning sentiment surely has to seem cheap to those who will forever more begin each day fitting into their prosthesis.

Certainly this Marathon Monday was different in obvious ways from the 117 that preceded it. There were more than 35,000 runners, a sharp increase over last year as room was made for the thousands who were stopped while still on the course after the bombs exploded. It was only fair to give them a chance to finish what fate and evil prevented them from doing last year. There was of course far more security, especially in suburban Hopkinton at the race’s starting point and in downtown Boston. Early estimates are that security costs increased six or seven fold over previous years.

But the most striking difference was the number of spectators. From all across Massachusetts and New England, and even from more distant points, they came. More than a million lined the route, double the usual number. They cheered in Hopkinton as wave after wave of runners set off, and they applauded in Ashland and Framingham as each contestant settled into his or her personal rhythm. Still more were there to offer encouragement in Natick and in Wellesley, where screaming college students urged tiring runners on through the course’s hills. Thickening crowds lined the streets in Newton as the final great challenge of Heartbreak Hill loomed. By the time the marathoners ran through Brookline and into Boston the spectators were first six, then ten and twelve deep. They cheered for elite runners, for family members or friends, and for thousands of strangers. They applauded veteran racers and amateurs experiencing their very first marathon. They came from all over, determined to help a great city reclaim its signature event.

For the first time in three decades an American won the men’s race. Meb Keflezighi, a 38-year old native of Eritrea who came to America as a child and later became a naturalized citizen, crossed the finish line painted on the Boylston Street pavement amid deafening cheers 2 hours 8 minutes 37 seconds after stepping off in Hopkinton. It was the fastest marathon Keflezighi had ever run. Kenyan Rita Jeptoo repeated as the women’s champion, but for much of the race American Shalane Flanagan set the pace among the elite women. While Flanagan was in tears after finishing seventh, her time of 2:22:02 was a personal best by more than three minutes.

But if the men’s and women’s races furnished storybook endings of American glory and American grit, the larger tale of this year’s Boston Marathon was told long after the elite runners crossed the finish line. That is when amateurs by the hundreds made the final turn onto Boylston Street, the finish line just three and a half city blocks away. The still densely packed throngs along the sidewalks cheered them on, those runners who ran 26.2 miles for neither money nor glory, but simply to prove the power of human will. At 2:49 p.m., the time of the first explosion last year, there was a scheduled moment of silence at the finish line. But it could not last, for runners were staggering home, and the crowd was there to support them. On Monday in Boston the carousel of time kept turning and the cheering wouldn’t stop; which meant that last year’s evil was finally and fully defeated.  The only tears at this Boston Marathon’s finish line were tears of joy.

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Responses

  1. #Boston Strong!!

  2. Really nice!

  3. Very nice tribute. Nicely done!
    -Bill


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