Why we run … and why we must keep going

Last Monday, about four hours after the two bombs that ripped through down­town Bo­ston killed three and in­jured 180, I phoned my moth­er at her Holmes­burg home.

As we di­ges­ted the aw­ful, tra­gic acts that forever marred the hap­pi­est day of the year in Bo­ston, our con­ver­sa­tion turned more per­son­al. Days earli­er, my mom, a breast can­cer sur­viv­or, had signed us up for the Phil­adelphia Race for the Cure, a massive run/walk to com­mem­or­ate sur­viv­ors and re­mem­ber the fallen on Moth­er’s Day.

“Do you still want to do it?” I asked her.

“Well … who would want to blow up can­cer sur­viv­ors?” she asked in re­sponse.

I don’t know how to an­swer that ques­tion, not any­more. After all of the head-spin­ning news out of Bo­ston the last week, I doubt I ever will. Just like the Bo­ston Mara­thon, the Race for the Cure is a cel­eb­ra­tion of life, com­pet­i­tion and the tri­umph of the hu­man spir­it over ad­versity. Why any­one would want to tear that down with evil is thank­fully bey­ond my own brain’s com­pre­hen­sion.

I am an avid run­ner. A mara­thon win­ner or par­ti­cipant I am not, but I al­ways got more ful­fill­ment out of run­ning out­doors than I ever did on a tread­mill in­side a gym. Slowly, over time, I began to fall in love with it, more so for the men­tal high it gave me than the phys­ic­al dif­fer­ence it made on my body. Run­ning be­came an out­let to ex­tin­guish all of my in­tern­al frus­tra­tions, and it al­ways seemed so bril­liant to me that per­form­ing such a simple act had the abil­ity to wipe away all of my prob­lems, even if it was just for an hour or two.

We all run for dif­fer­ent reas­ons, be it for health, for set­ting and achiev­ing goals pre­vi­ously thought to be im­possible, for pro­duct­ively re­leas­ing an­ger and ex­as­per­a­tion … whatever yours may be, it’s your own. 

The fact that nearly 40,000 run­ners got to­geth­er in Bo­ston for the same com­mon goal (and an­oth­er 500,000 or so who lined the streets to sup­port the com­pet­it­ors dur­ing the gruel­ing 26-mile race) is so purely beau­ti­ful, which is why I’m so dis­gus­ted that the two per­pet­rat­ors would aim to take that away from us.

On Thursday, sev­er­al hours be­fore gun­fire racked the Bo­ston sub­urbs of Cam­bridge and Wa­ter­town that res­ul­ted in one dead sus­pect and an un­pre­ced­en­ted man­hunt for the oth­er, I made an­oth­er phone call, this time di­al­ing up my ma­ter­nal cous­in, Tim Baker. Though we hadn’t seen each oth­er in roughly four years, so­cial me­dia had told me that, like my­self, Tim had be­come a ded­ic­ated run­ner, even tak­ing it a step fur­ther by run­ning in half-mara­thon events around the coun­try in places such as Ore­gon, Colum­bus, Ohio, Salt Lake City and Bal­timore, where he cur­rently lives. 

I also knew that Tim — a Wil­li­am­stown, N.J. nat­ive — was a 2005 gradu­ate of West Point, and al­though he was nowhere near Bo­ston last Monday, I wanted to ask him about the train­ing he had re­ceived from the Army in an at­tempt to try to un­der­stand the hero­ic re­ac­tions of the first re­spon­ders who ran dir­ectly in­to the smoke and fire without a second thought.

Most of all, I just wanted him to tell me it was still OK to do what I — and so many people na­tion­wide — love to do without fear­ing for my life.

“Hon­estly, I think this event will gal­van­ize people to the point where it won’t slow them down or stop them,” he told me. “If you think about it, any act of ter­ror is wrong, but for this to hap­pen when you’re run­ning the event of your life, it’s un­think­able. 

“So while it may nev­er be the same again and may al­ways be in the back of our minds, I think it will take a whole lot more to al­ter people’s be­ha­vi­ors be­cause the be­ne­fits far out­weigh any­thing else. To me, it’s a no-brain­er.”

When I last saw Tim in Colum­bus in 2009, he prob­ably wouldn’t have been able to run down his block without get­ting win­ded. His de­pend­ence on run­ning — and get­ting back in­to prime phys­ic­al shape — was borne out of a failed en­gage­ment. He ended up mov­ing out to Ore­gon to live with an old West Point buddy, hop­ing to dis­cov­er a new­found pur­pose and dir­ec­tion to his life. 

He found it in an un­likely place, dis­cov­er­ing that the pit­ter pat­ter of his foot­steps thwack­ing against the con­crete and the rhythm of his breath­ing made him feel whole again.

“It was a pure epi­phany,” he said. “I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Now, run­ning is an in­stru­ment that helps keep him and his fam­ily whole. After his young­er sis­ter, Kathy, gave birth to twins last winter, they began run­ning to­geth­er. Just this past week­end, they ran in Bal­timore’s Sole of the City 10K. 

“I’ll nev­er for­get our first one in Colum­bus,” Tim, 30, re­called. “When we were done, she just cried tears of joy. It was a big mo­ment for us. It’s brought us so much closer.”

Not only that, but two days after the bombs went off in Bo­ston, Tim and some mem­bers of Team Red, White & Blue — a char­ity group with more than 40 chapters na­tion­wide that seeks to help war vet­er­ans reac­cli­mate to so­ci­ety through phys­ic­al activ­it­ies — did a three-mile run around Bal­timore’s In­ner Har­bor to com­mem­or­ate those killed or in­jured in the Bo­ston at­tacks. 

“Every chapter did some sort of trib­ute,” Tim said. “We were wear­ing Amer­ica’s col­ors and car­ry­ing the flag. People waved. They honked their horns and cheered us on. It was a won­der­ful show of solid­ar­ity for the vic­tims and first re­spon­ders.”

So, in es­sence, after a wide-ran­ging 40-minute tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion, my cous­in af­firmed for me what I already knew. 

I will walk in the Race for the Cure for the second time with my moth­er on May 12. The Sunday be­fore, I plan to make the short walk from my apart­ment down to Broad and Spring Garden streets to cheer on the run­ners in the Broad Street Run as they pass by. Next year, I hope to run the race my­self.

Why? Be­cause as Tim said, “It’s just the right thing to do.”

“It’s the law of phys­ics,” he told me. “For every ac­tion, in this case the evil that went in­to plan­ning the at­tacks, comes an equal and op­pos­ite re­ac­tion, which is the out­pour­ing of love and sup­port and com­pas­sion that we’ve all seen.

“What’s so amaz­ing to me about run­ning is the uni­ver­sal­ity we can all re­late to. You don’t need a ball; you don’t need any­thing … just a bit of open road. If you have that, even­tu­ally, all the bad stuff just melts away.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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