I’ve been louder at a sporting event. I’ve rooted harder. I’ve cared more. But I’ve never been more inspired than I was on Beacon Street in 2009.
Former sports editor Ed Owens was running the Boston Marathon as a member of the Dana-Farber fundraising team. A big group of us made the trek into the city and parked ourselves on the sidewalk around mile marker 22. I expected to fire up the grill, enjoy some adult beverages, maybe watch the leaders run past and then wait for Ed.
Instead, our entire group stood almost the whole time, reaching over the fence for high-fives, cheering like crazy, handing out orange slices and yelling for everybody, especially for the people who had written their names on their shirts.
It was an amazing experience.
I had heard about the festival atmosphere, how the day was Boston’s best, but I didn’t know why. With every cheer, I started to understand. It was like being part of a wave of energy, of all the best in the human spirit. We yelled until we lost our voices. They ran until they couldn’t run anymore.
Inspiration flowed both ways. When you watch 20,000 people run 26.2 miles, you can’t help but feel it. When you think about their stories – their dedication, their will, their reasons for putting one foot in front of another so many times – you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by it.
I write this now, of course, because of Monday. Because the inspiration and the joy and the triumph faded under clouds of smoke. The explosions at the finish line rocked the marathon and the city to its core.
Three confirmed dead, more than 100 injured. An attack and a tragedy, one that resonates because of what it stole. This was Boston.
I think we’re drawn to athletics in part because of what they say about us. You watch an underdog win and you feel a little extra hope. You see hard work rewarded, struggles turned to success. It’s life – many of the good things in life – played out on a field.
Marathons do it in spades. Watching runners at the top of their sport is amazing enough. Watching everybody else take the same steps on the same route goes deeper. Inspiration isn’t a strong enough word.
For all that to be lost in such a tragic way is jarring. It knocks the wind out of you. The hope is that justice and answers will come. For the people at the heart of it, lives have been forever changed. For the rest of us, because it was this, because it was the Boston Marathon, the world will feel a little different. A bit of that emptiness will remain.
But if sports say something about us, then maybe they can define the way forward. Back in 2009, while we packed up and cars returned to Beacon Street and the last light of the sunset faded, we saw a lone runner, plodding along with a police escort. I don’t think we ever found out who he was or why he was still running or what had happened to delay him, but it was almost better that way.
He was just running. He wasn’t stopping, no matter what.
Here’s hoping they run again, all of them, 20,000 strong.
And that they don’t stop.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.