Holmes : From Joy To Tragedy In A Matter Of Moments

By Stephen Holmes


This was supposed to be like every other Marathon Monday.

It's become an annual tradition for me. Wake up early and drop my girlfriend, Betsy, at the bus to Hopkinton at the Braintree MBTA, then find a parking spot in Boston. This time, I got some finish line rewards at Mike's Pastries and Flour Cafe, then jumped on a train to Framingham - out by mile 6.

The benefit of this spot is that it's early enough in the race to see all the major runners while still waiting for your person to run by. In addition to the leaders, I cheered on the inspiring Team Hoyt, the handicapable runners, and a contingent of soldiers in full pack, walking the entire 26.2 miles. I then went to Cleveland Circle in Brookline to catch Betsy running by mile 23.

As soon as she ran by, I caught the trolley back to the Arlington T, just beyond the finish line on Boylston Street. I emerged from underground just as she called. She was picking up her bag at the finish line and would meet me across the street. I was facing towards the finish line, keeping an eye out for her, when I heard the two blasts in rapid succession and then saw two streams of white smoke rising over Boylston Street. The sound was like a dull thud of cannons; to be honest I thought it was some sort of celebration. Then my phone rang again, and Betsy said the race organizers were telling people to move up and away from the finish. It took her about a minute or so to get to me, and when she did, she was shaking. By the time we got to the next block, we could already hear sirens. We knew it was bad. Our suspicions were confirmed by people calling to check on us who knew we were at the Marathon. My heart goes out to anyone who had their worst fears confirmed after they made those calls.

The Boston Marathon is the one race that almost every runner dreams of. There is a whole cottage industry of other races that promise you a chance of getting a Boston qualifying time. And it is not hard to see why it is so popular when you walk around the pre-race Expo or even just the streets during the weekend. Everyone is smiling, you get the feeling that you are surrounded by people who are fulfilling a lifelong dream. And the love is returned by the spectators along the route. I saw people who had set up their own water and food stops, people cheering runners on,waving signs for total strangers, and just a general party atmosphere.

To me the most amazing thing will always be watching the variety of runners from across the country and from around the world go past. It's awful to think that next year's race will be in lockdown. Will we have security zones with metal detectors? Will spectators be barred from setting up their own stops or will the entire route be locked down? I hope not. On Monday, I watched people jump out of the crowd and run for a few minutes with their loved ones or stick out a hand to give a high five to a stranger. It's a cliché to say “Don't let the terrorists win”, but if next year's race is run behind barriers, with security every few yards, then whoever did this will have won. It would be a marathon, but not the Boston Marathon.

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