I checked into the hotel and quickly dropped off my bag. Eager to catch the last few hours of sunlight, I headed back downstairs to Boylston Street and the Boston Marathon finish line, only a block away. In 72 hours, thousands of runners would be starting their trek to culminate months, if not years, of trying to get to that point. At the finish line, hundreds of spectators would be waiting for them and screaming their hearts out as they stepped over that famous maker of 26.2 miles.
If someone had asked me what I would have felt the first moment I saw it, I would have replied with something along the lines of feeling “inspired, motivated, and excited.” In truth, that is what I was expecting from the moment I laid my eyes on the most prestigious finish line in our sport. But in reality, it was the exact opposite.
We’ve all seen photos of what the last .2 miles look like. If you are facing the finish line (or running towards it) there are spectators on the left and grandstands on the right. We’ve also seen the videos of white smoke engulfing the spectators, knocking down the runners, and panic and heroism combined in a single moment. As I crossed the street a block before the finish line onto the side where the spectators would be, I noticed an open space on a crowded sidewalk. It was the place where one of the explosions took place, claiming four lives and injuring more. Directly behind it, you can see the grandstands where people watched it happen in what must have been a horrific and terrifying moment.
As I was standing there paying my respects to those that were lost, and injured physically and emotionally, I was overcome with what I can best describe as “feeling uneasy.” Anxious, scared, angry, and sad, are a few of the other adjectives that describe the numerous emotions I was experiencing at one time, but it certainly was not what I was expecting to feel.
Everything that I was feeling seemed to be represented by the grandstands. It makes no sense, I know. I was standing in the spot where the first explosion happened, but it was the grandstands that were making me feel so uneasy. It was as if THOSE benches were symbolic of how and where as a community we all saw the events on April 15, 2013 unfold. Perhaps it was from the wide-angle shots of the finish line in the aftermath where we saw the empty grandstands and rail guards thrown about. Maybe it was the empty grandstands that were the one thing that looked exactly the same as that day and were taking me back to that moment.
The uneasy feeling didn’t stay with me the entire trip. It was if the world and noise went silent for 10 minutes and I was experiencing being in a single moment, at a single time. I would walk by the grandstands several more times that day and even run by them the following morning. On Marathon Monday, I would be standing on them for 3+ hours with that uneasy feeling never fully returning. For those that were a part of that day, I can’t begin to imagine the emotions. I witnessed it on television and experienced it through social media, and when I arrived at the location 2 years later, I was overwhelmed in a way that I was not expecting. My emotions cannot relate, but my respect and love for everyone that acted with strength and heroism that day are the highest.
I stood on those grandstands and clapped and cheered for runners. I stood on those grandstands for friends running a race I dream of being a part of one day. I stood on those grandstands knowing that we MUST run this race and that we MUST be strong. I stood on those grandstands for those that could not and for those that wished they had been. I stood on those grandstands because I love this community and everything that it represents.
I left with the inspiration and motivation to return and NOT stand on those grandstands, but to instead run right in front of them.