Pete Watson runs, literally and figuratively, among the distance-running elite. He won bronze in the 5,000 meters at the 2001 Canadian national championships, and he coaches his brother Rob, a world-class marathoner.
Monday the Watsons were in Boston, where Rob placed 11th in the planet’s most famous footrace. Alas, some two hours later, the 2013 Boston Marathon became infamous.
That’s when two bombs detonated near the finish line, killing three, wounding more than 100 and piercing the sport’s core.
The explosions occurred with the race clock at approximately four hours, 10 minutes.
“The Boston Marathon isn’t about the elites running 2:10, 2:15,” Watson by phone from his hotel, which Monday night remained on lockdown. “What the event is about, and running is about, is the three- and four-hour marathoners, and the how the entire community supports them.
“Today struck at the heart of that.”
Watson, cross country coach at the Universty of Virginia, couldn’t be more right.
From weekend warriors to aspiring Olympians, runners are comrades. We greet one another as we traipse our neighborhoods, even half-asleep in the pre-dawn hours. This we do with a wave, nod or even a few words.
In races — 1-mile fun runs, half-marathons and the full 26.2 miles — we push one another while basking in the encouragement of spectators.
Such outpouring has been a staple of every race I’ve, generous term here, run: half-marathons on Long Island and the Outer Banks, a 10K in Charlottesville, a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot in Newport News, Rudolph’s Red-Nosed Run in Nashville.
Few, if any, regions embrace running like Boston. I've plodded along the Charles River and down Commonwealth Avenue in Chestnut Hill, at all hours and in various conditions, never alone.
Not fast enough to qualify for Boston's premier race, I entered the New York Marathon in 1989, and those who lined the streets acknowledged us by what was printed on our T-shirts. Mine said, “UCLA,” a souvenir from a California vacation.
“Come on, UCLA,” I must have heard a hundred times, most frequently as I staggered through the closing stages in Central Park.
When I finished, the dividend of a year’s training realized, I cried.
“My dad was a four-hour marathoner,” Watson said, “and I know the amount of work he put into it. I can’t imagine (the four-hour runners Monday who were) traumatized (by the bombs).”
The stories and images are crushing. Runners and spectators lost legs. Blood was everywhere.
Among those killed: 8-year-old Martin Richard, whose sister and mother were severely injured.
Yet amid the carnage, charity endured.
The photographs and videos of heroic first responders were breathtaking. NBC Sports Network reported that some marathoners ran on to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood. The American Red Cross tweeted that donations across the city had stocked the shelves. Former New England Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi carried a woman to safety.
The events rekindled memories of two other communities struck by terror.
Six years ago Tuesday, a gunman killed 32 innocents at Virginia Tech, bringing unspeakable grief and creating unbreakable bonds. Each year, most recently Saturday, the campus stages a 3.2-mile run in memory of the victims — I participated in 2012 and can not recall a more poignant, uplifting and communal experience.
In 1996, a pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park during the Atlanta Summer Games, killing two and injuring dozens. Again, our propensity for kindness overcame our suspicions and fears.
Visitors from around the world gathered on the streets, in restaurants and in hotel lobbies to affirm their shared humanity and belief in the Olympic spirit.
Three days later, more than 50,000 attended the park’s reopening. Among us was Leslie Heinz of Lexington, Ky., bomb shrapnel still in her neck.
``Emotionally, I'm like a whirlpool,” Heinz told me that morning, recalling a stranger who used his shirt as a tourniquet on her wounds. ``I wanted to be part of the celebration again. But I'm going to keep remembering. I don't want to ever forget.”
Atlanta resident Mark Gilbreath was there, too.
``I need to get over this,” he said. “It's important to be here. It’s a catharsis. This may be the highlight of the Games for me. After all, how many gold medals can you see? This is what is truly important.”
Finally, there was a group of teenagers in the park, some from Asia, others Europe, others the United States. They sat in a circle, sang hymns and prayed.
Now we pray for Boston, and we look forward to Patriots Day 2014, when more than 20,000 marathoners will toe the start line and more than half-a-million will urge them on. They will run and cheer, reflect and celebrate.
The competitors, indeed all of Boston, will conquer Heartbreak Hill like never before.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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