We won't cower in fear after Boston
The Kansas City Star
I ran the Boston Marathon on Monday and I expected to experience pain. I did, but it wasn’t the kind I’d expected.
At 2:50 p.m., I’d just passed the 25-mile mark, when I heard a loud sound, which I learned later was the first of two explosions near the finish line. I didn’t think much about it, maybe because I was too focused on putting one foot in front of the other in an effort to complete the marathon.
Shortly afterwards, I saw a group of runners ahead of me coming to a stop – when I reached them, I saw a Boston police officer and asked him what was going on. He said that a bomb had exploded at the finish line and that people were injured. Soon there was a large group of us at the intersection of Commonwealth and Mass Avenue, all cold and tired.
I never carry my cell phone with me when I’m running, but on Monday I did. I tried to call Vickie to make sure she was okay. She didn’t answer. In a few minutes, she called me. She had been about a quarter mile from the finish line, but the police had directed all the spectators to leave the area – she was okay.
Shortly after that, all Verizon cell phone service was disrupted – as I learned later, concerned that a cell phone had detonated the bombs, the police required Verizon to shut down their service.
Over the course of the next hour, all thoughts of finishing the marathon were gone from our minds, as we wondered about those who were injured. After an hour of waiting, we were released to make our way to the buses that were carrying our baggage.
As we crossed Boylston Street, under the watchful guard of many police officers, I could see lots of activity several blocks away at the finish line. By now, the police had cordoned off an area almost a mile long and about a half mile wide and no one was allowed inside that area. It was a surreal feeling – where I was, it was calm and people were moving about as though nothing had happened.
We saw dozens of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars were everywhere. Our hotel, fortunately, was outside the cordoned off area and by a long, circuitous route, I got back there and was reunited with Vickie. Only then, when I saw the television news reports, did I realize the full extent of the tragedy that had occurred, with three deaths - and how fortunate we were not to have been there at the finish line.
At that point, the sense of overwhelming sadness hit me - for the families of those who were killed in the bombings, the many who were seriously injured, the first responders, the medical personnel, the race organizers, all the volunteers and the thousands of runners and their families – for all of whom, an unknown bomber (or bombers) had stolen away the joy that was to have marked the 117th running of the Boston Marathon.
I called Wayne Gudenkauf to make sure he and his wife, Kim, who had ran the marathon, were okay. Kim is a good runner, so she had finished well before the blasts occurred.
Monday evening, despite all of the emotions of the day, I was hungry, and so we decided to try to find a restaurant that was open. We stopped at several places, which were either packed or about to close, until we found a Cheesecake Factory that was open.
There we talked with a man still in his running clothes. His hotel was in the cordoned off area and like many other runners, he was not allowed to enter. He had his credit card and his cell phone (battery almost dead, and of course, he didn’t have his charger). We invited him and his girlfriend to use to our room to shower and spend the night, but they indicated they had a place to spend the night. Only four of the 32 servers at the Cheesecake Factory had been able to get to work that night – and they were very busy since many of the most popular post-race restaurants in the area were in the cordoned off area – and closed.
As we walked back to our hotel, we saw National Guard soldiers everywhere, including several who were stationed outside our hotel. Throughout the situation, I was impressed by the performance of the first responders – police, fire personnel, ambulances, and medical personnel. Although the bombings were unexpected, the emergency plans were in place and were executed well, as far as I could tell.
I also saw and heard of many acts of kindnesses by strangers and by runners helping other runners. On a Facebook posting Tuesday, there was a statement attributed to Mr. Rogers (of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood): “Look for the helpers; you will always find people who are helpers.” Helpers were everywhere in Boston on Monday. Another helper in Boston on Monday was social media. Texts, tweets, Facebook postings – all were effective in connecting families and friends and reducing much of anxiety that exists in the unknown.
There was a sense of resolve that came through in the statements by officials on Monday and in many of the news stories on Tuesday. One editorial was titled “We Won’t Take Cover.” In responding to this tragic event, the author wrote: “Life will go on here. We won’t be paralyzed by fear. We’ll take reasonable precautions, yes. But we won’t take cover. And we won’t cower. This, after all, is Boston.”
I won’t go back to Boston for next year’s marathon, but not because I’m afraid to; but because I probably can’t run fast enough to meet the qualifying standard (even though I would have only missed it by five minutes if I’d finished on Monday.)
The bombings on Boylston were a tragic reminder that we live in a dangerous world, and suddenly we can find our lives changed forever by something we never expected and had no control over. We can take reasonable precautions (just as the race organizers and police did in Boston), but life is uncertain. Sooner or later, we all face pain, but we can’t let it paralyze us.
Overland Park Public Works Director Doug Brown was a runner in this year’s Boston Marathon. He was about a half mile from the finish line at the time of the explosions. Brown has been with Overland Park for over 10 years. He is a West Point graduate, and retired from the U.S. Army prior to coming to Overland Park.