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Personal triumphs denied at Boston Marathon as we wonder what's ahead

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  April 16, 2013 11:11 AM

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The timestamp on the email reads 2:36 p.m.

I had just finished a piece from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where at the three-hour mark of the fabled race, runners spoke not merely of their accomplishments, but the crowd and volunteer support that drove them. There was Australia native Jodi Obourne, who wore her country’s name on her chest with pride to the cheering delight of thousands along the race route, still in the glow of fellow countryman Adam Scott's historic win at the Masters a day earlier. There was San Francisco’s Taylor Ahlgren, who had lost a bet and was forced to run the marathon in a zebra costume, as the throngs cheered him on with the moniker “Zebra Man.” There was Portsmouth N.H.’s Eric Beidelman, who helped raise more than $200,000 for the Run Tri Ride to End Alzheimer's by running the marathon.

They spoke of the crowd, mostly, and why its presence makes the Boston Marathon the best race in the world. They relayed why Boston is special among all races, the premier event on any marathon runner’s calendar, and an omnipresent “to-do” for those aspiring to be one of those navigating his or her way from Hopkinton to Boston.

I sent it off at 2:36 then made my way back to the finish line to soak up more of the atmosphere; families reuniting and elated friends celebrating.

Then…

The instant aftermath of the Boylston Street bombings was one of both immediate response and mass confusion. And that was only in the immediate vicinity. One can only imagine the disorder in the blocks and turns yet to approach the turn from Mass. Ave.

Of the 23,326 runners who started the race in Hopkinton, 17,584 finished before the race was stopped. Another 4,496 crossed the 40-kilometer mark, but did not cross the finish line, and beyond that, another 1,246 remained, either having dropped out, or stopped along the way.

Portland Ore. native Claire Carder was about a half-mile from the finish line when the 60-year-old was told her quest to finish a marathon in a 47th state would come to an abrupt end.

“They called everybody off the course,” she told The Oregonian. “It was word of mouth.”

These are the personal stories that rarely make the headlines, yet they are no less significant than the men and women who happen to run faster than everybody else. Lives and livelihood were both taken in one, swift 15-second period that has altered our mentality and approach to daily life. Again.

It may be menial in the grand scheme, but almost 6,000 people had a dream denied Monday. Their quest was halted not by weakness of their legs, but the cowardice and evil of whomever is responsible for the despicable bombings. I’m not a runner, nor do I ever strive to be, so I don’t completely get it, but it’s difficult to deny the fabric and camaraderie that makes up a running community. Hell, I’ve had to leave the room when running friends get started because I simply can’t think of anything more boring or foreign to discuss at length. That doesn’t deny a runner his or her passion and drive.

But somebody did just that on Monday.

As they were denied, so were we. Blind runners, handicapped runners, runners running for various hospitals and disease research, runners clad in ridiculous outfits, and that crazy kid running the marathon on stilts to raise money for Shriner’s Hospital. Their triumphs faded into incompletion and uncertainty, halted along the course like a herd of cows. The marathon was suddenly and eerily over. So was their quest for it.

What happens next? If you have an answer to that question, you’re lying. After I began to process the severity of yesterday to some degree, I had a flashback to that glorious summer day two years ago when a million people packed the downtown streets of Boston to celebrate the Bruins’ Stanley Cup championship. I held my then-three-year-old son on my shoulders with the only fear resulting from the teenager that attempted to pickpocket me in the middle of the dozen-deep crowd.

What if they win again? What if the Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots win again? How can we celebrate? Will we be able to revel without the fear of Monday altering our notable celebrations? Can we let what happened on Boylston Street interfere?

What will become of the Boston Marathon under heightened awareness? We simply don’t know. We can't know. It is a bridge to be crossed at some indeterminable point as authorities continue to sift through mountains of evidence. Maybe spectators will be denied certain liberties that had become the norm, but it’s hard to imagine the determination of the athletes ever being affected, even in the wake of tragedy.

Thousands of runners had their personal triumphs swiped away from them yesterday, just one more upsetting aspect of an event that ripped open Boston’s heart, revealing both sorrow and grief and heroism and resolve.

Once I finally returned to my laptop in the media center, I sifted through my already endless email. Among the messages was a response from my finish line piece, it having finished the copy editing process and published.

The timestamp was 2:51 p.m.; one minute after the first bomb went off.

In 60 seconds, the account had changed. Thousands of lives had changed. And Boston, as resolute a town as you’ll ever see, hinged on the boundary of fear and determination.

Only one can win, and you’d damn well better believe it’ll be the latter.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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