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 firstname.lastname@example.org