Column: Tragedy mars glowing marathon memories

Everyone has a marathon story.

Mine came not as a runner, but as a supporter.

Nonetheless, it left me forever touched by the event’s magnitude.

Five years ago, my good high school friend Chris decided to run in the Boston Marathon. He participated as part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge, organized by the Boston-based cancer institute that raises millions each year through the race.

The program pairs runners with cancer patients. Chris was matched with a 15-year-old named Larry, a family friend of his who also lived in his hometown of Peabody, Mass.

By the time Patriots Day weekend arrived, Chris had raised more than $4,000 for cancer research.

A student at Indiana University at the time, I flew home to Massachusetts from Bloomington for the weekend. It was Chris’ first time ever attending the Boston Marathon, as it was mine.

I hopped on the train into the city with Chris’ family and some friends. After making our way up from the subway, we situated ourselves on the left side of Boylston Street, within a few hundred yards of the finish line.

Just as people had suggested, the atmosphere is infectious. The crowd’s encouragement, the endless waves of runners, the beautiful spring weather. It’s impossible not to become completely absorbed. It is Boston’s most special day.

About 4 1/2 hours into the race, we finally saw Chris and flagged him over toward us. He stopped for a minute, exhausted, and thanked us all for coming. We all hugged. He finished the final two-tenths of a mile with Larry so that they could share in the euphoria of completion.

It all just made you feel so good. Everything about the moment was right.

That’s the race’s power in the Hub. It’s an event embedded in the city’s fabric; a day that brings hope and joy to so many, ultimately symbolized by traversing that yellow finish line that iconically rests year-round in Boston’s Back Bay.

It’s hard to think that those who would have finished the race in Chris’ time this year did not have the chance to feel what he felt. What we all felt.

Watching the race’s aftermath Monday so far from home left me in a state of confusion. I was so thankful to not have been where I was five years prior, yet simultaneously wished to be back in the city, closer to family, closer to friends, closer to what is so familiar. An unsettling juxtaposition.

As Monday afternoon sped by — contacting family and friends, consuming hours of television coverage, digesting the reality of it all — I found myself tired and sad.

Seeing such carnage on streets I’ve walked, on pavement so sacred to a city, leaves you wishing it could all go away.

Why did it have to be Boston? Why did it have to be the Marathon? Why did it have to be the finish line?

My joyous memories, everyone’s joyous memories, are now forever marred.

Yet just as we all witnessed more than a decade ago in New York, a tragedy’s aftermath can be equally as captivating. And that response has already resonated.

Charitable work, blood donation, offerings of refuge — within hours of the bombings Boston residents formulated directories listing places for runners and other misplaced race participants to stay — are but a few signs of the resiliency shown thus far.

And perhaps more than anything, the unfortunate events that claimed the lives of three people, injured more than a hundred and affected millions more have again compelled us to re-evaluate and ground ourselves, wherever we are.

Hugging those you cherish, saying “I love you,” finding joy in the simplest of things re-establish themselves as the pinnacle of each day.

Rightfully so.

Herald sportswriter Joe Jasinski, who grew up a half-hour north of Boston dreaming of being the next Nomar Garciaparra, can be reached at 482-2626 ext. 120 or jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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