A sampling of opinions from the tragedy at the Boston Marathon:
Atlanta memory haunts but doesn’t win
A PHONE CALL at 1:30 a.m. always startles, but then came the chill of one simple statement from a colleague — “Turn on the TV” — followed by the jarring growl of the dial tone.
That’s how the news of the Olympic Centennial Park bombing came to me on July 27, 1996, sitting up late at a hotel room 10 miles from downtown Atlanta and typing away on a column about some entirely forgettable sports topic.
In the days to come we asked questions of athletes and officials and spectators and even of each other, trying to figure out the proper way to respond. The answers seemed always to be the same.
Keep going. Continue the Olympics, which at the moment were only halfway through their scheduled two-week run. Let law enforcement do its job, recognizing and accepting whatever increased security protocols were deemed necessary. Find the new normal and make it work, because the alternatives of panic and capitulation were not on the table.
Watching from afar, the city of Boston seems committed to the same approach in response to Monday’s bombings near the finish line of the marathon. It’s a matter of standing your ground and doing it together, which is as close as America is ever going to come to ganging up on the twisted few who imagine that turning a sporting event or a concert or a midnight movie into a killing field will change the world into something more to their liking.
Son’s dedication brings run into focus
THIS IS HOW celebrations of the human spirit end in the 21st century:
Police sirens wail and aid cars scream to their destinations. TV stations interrupt regular programming, and reporters describe limbs blown from bodies. The president delivers a hasty address on the latest act of terrorism.
Monday, this was Boston, when a gloriously sunny day, brisk and a little breezy — near perfect for the running of the 117th Boston Marathon — turned grotesque and unthinkable. This time, the killers didn’t just get innocents, they managed to dial up a brutal incongruity. They made a day of triumph for so many of the 27,000 competitors one that will forever be recalled for its tragedy.
We came back here to see our son Brett, a former runner at Gonzaga, run his second marathon. Several of us gathered on Heartbreak Hill, another a mile from the finish line downtown.
Like a lot of runners, my son approached the event with a religious ferocity, training through the most begrudging parts of a Seattle winter, watching what he ate, intent on maximizing.
On Heartbreak Hill, he was fairly breezing, and the electricity of the event — a course solid with spectators for 26 miles — lifted him through the sag of the last several miles. He ran 2 hours, 34 minutes, 7 seconds, 111th among males.
Triumph of spirit is at finish line
ON THE RADIO Monday morning, I gave my advice to anyone attending the Boston Marathon: Go to the finish line late in the day, I said. Show up long after the world-class runners have crossed the line, picked up their prize money, headed to the airport and flown off to the next big race on the schedule. Then you’ll see the real champions, the true heart and soul of the Boston Marathon.
By the time the real winners cross, the finish-line tape has been ripped down and the street covered with litter. Oh, but what a scene. You wait until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and you’ll see the grandmother staggering across the finish line as her shrieking grandkids surround her. You’ll see wounded veterans, you’ll see friends or couples finishing arm in arm, you’ll see people literally crawl across the line and collapse on that one glorious painted patch of Boylston Street.
You go to the finish line late on Patriots Day afternoon, and you’ll see the human spirit in all its glory — sweaty, bloody, delirious and genuinely triumphant. You want to see the best of the Boston Marathon? Take my advice and show up late.
In a way, we saw it again this year, but this time it was not limited to the runners. It was in the first responders running toward the carnage, stepping into the smoke to help anyone who needed help. It was in the volunteers who normally are here to maintain order but were suddenly thrust into this frightening chaos.
Race’s grand scale attracts all of us
SPORTS IS WHERE we’re supposed to be able to go to get away from all this.
After September 2001 came October 2001. Baseball playoff games in New York City were transformed into cathartic events — places to gather and share the pain while defiantly showing that our way of life was not going to be changed.
Not by terrorists, not by bombs, not ever.
Even Monday’s Boston Marathon was supposed to help heal a still-open wound. Organizers scheduled 26 seconds of silence before the start in honor of the 26 victims of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Parents of some of the Newtown victims were invited to sit in the VIP stands near the finish line.
The first bomb went off just across the way. Normalcy was transformed in a literal flash into chaos and confusion and agony.
As always, the best of us ran toward the blast site: police, paramedics, firefighters, ordinary civilians seeking to help rather than to flee. They are the ones the perpetrators can’t figure out.
The Boston Marathon is an insidiously perfect target for the kind of twisted mind that wants to create maximum shock value. What makes the event so special is what makes it so vulnerable.
It is a sporting event on the grand scale, like the Super Bowl or the Kentucky Derby or the Masters. But unlike all of those, where only the elite get to compete, a marathon includes both world-class athletes and regular folk. There are professionals looking to set world records and those on life journeys looking to prove something to themselves.