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The finish line of a marathon is a holy place. Reaching it is a revelation.
After months, sometimes years, of training, a 26.2-mile journey ends with a final stride across a simple straight line painted on the ground, giving way to exuberance, tears and relief.
The Boston Marathon is arguably the most elusive finish line of all, and not just anyone can cross it. The vast majority of runners must achieve a qualifying standard set by the race organizer, the Boston Athletic Association, to earn a place at the starting line. It’s an Olympics for amateur athletes and a celebrated rite of spring for Bostonians who line the course from suburban Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Copley Square.
In 2013, on a cool, partly sunny day, this ebullient scene was shattered when two bombs exploded near the finish line. Krystle Campbell, 29, Lingzi Lu, 23, and 8-year-old Martin Richard were killed, and hundreds were wounded. A police officer, Sean Collier, was later killed by one of the bombing suspects.
The significance of the space on Boylston Street, that afternoon and in the 10 years since, took on a new shape.
On Monday, nearly 30,000 runners will journey, down and up and down, toward the finish line of the 127th Boston Marathon.
In their own words, survivors, runners, spectators and professional athletes described the meaning of that blue and yellow finish, and how the attack has changed it for them.
Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Dave Fortier, 57, Newburyport, Massachusetts
Runner and founder of One World Strong, a foundation to support victims of trauma
Wrong place, wrong time. I was just about to finish. I didn’t know for several seconds that I had been hit, my body was so sore. I had never run more than 20 miles. I couldn’t hear anything, just ringing in my ears, which I still have. There are several seconds I don’t remember. And then I remember several people in yellow jackets, and I felt throbbing in my foot. There’s a hole in my shoe and blood pooling and I’m thinking this doesn’t make sense, and then slowly everything comes back into focus. My family was on Boylston, and that was all I was thinking about.
I didn’t realize I had finished Boston until I was in the hospital and I received the automatic email from the BAA saying I finished. I didn’t remember crossing the line.
If you’re a survivor and you were injured you get a bib every year. This is a way to take back the finish line. That was the driver for me, and I have the same feeling every year when I cross, that I am taking it back, that I did all my training to take it back.
Meb Keflezighi, 47, Tampa, Florida
Professional runner, 2014 Boston Marathon champion
The finish line has many, many stories, but it was so meaningful because it is a celebration of life, especially after 2013. I have to talk about 2013 to get to 2014. It’s like a stride You can’t stride with one leg or clap with one hand.
In 2013, I was scheduled to do it and unfortunately I was injured, so I was there as a spectator. After the bombing, I was asked if I would come back or if I was scared. I said probably at 7 or 8 p.m. that day, on April 15, 2013, that I hoped to be healthy enough to win it for the people.
Even though the odds were against me, I had less than a 1% chance to win, according to experts, I was the 18th-fastest guy, a 39-year-old, but my heart was in the right place. I wrote the victims’ names on my bib — Martin, Sean, Krystle, Lingzi — with a Sharpie. I wanted to represent the U.S. the best I could.
I was chosen to pull the victory off for everybody in 2014, for the 36,000 people that wanted to show resilience or revenge, a “we are not going to give up” kind of mentality.
When President (Barack) Obama gave me a call to say “job well done,” that’s when I understood just how monumental that victory was.
Tatyana McFadden, 33, St. Petersburg, Florida
Professional wheelchair racer, 2014 Boston Marathon champion
Ten years ago I ran my first marathon ever in Boston, and that celebration was not there. What was there was a sense of community, of people really coming together. It felt like there was a paradigm shift at the Boston Marathon.
It’s been extra special to get to know the Richard family. It was especially difficult when Jane (Martin Richard’s younger sister) became disabled, but I was able to really explain to the family that she can still do anything. She can still be whatever she wants to be regardless of having a disability.
It means something so different crossing that finish line compared to other marathon majors. The finish line is almost like a homecoming for you. You are coming home at the end of the race. People show a lot of love and empathy and support at that finish line. It’s just electric.
Eliud Kipchoge, 38, Eldoret, Kenya
World-record holder in the marathon who is running his first Boston Marathon on Monday
I was in Kenya and it was shocking to see the bombing on TV. That sport is what brings people together. It’s painful for people to have come together and for this bombing to happen. So it was a shocking thing.
With the bombing happening at the finishing line, it’s the opposite of joy and becomes a place of sorrow. So it was really terrible.
I want to be with the family of Boston when they are celebrating the 10-year anniversary. I need to be with them, to tell them sorry and spread the word of positivity, of the human family.
Audrey Epstein Reny, 58, and Gillian Reny, 28, Boston
Mother and daughter, spectators in 2013. Audrey Epstein Reny ran the race before that year and after, as the Reny family helped raise nearly $30 million for the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation.
Audrey Epstein Reny: We were standing in front of Marathon Sports. Gillian was the most severely injured, but all of us suffered injuries.
Nine of us ran the next year. The whole city seemed to know someone who was connected. We were firsthand beneficiaries of that.
I cannot imagine 10 years ago this is where we would be. When something happens you have a choice about how you process it and move forward.
Gillian Reny: We wanted to turn this tragedy into something positive, not only to heal our family and others, but to give back to the doctors who saved my life and my legs. It felt like the whole city and the world was coming together.
I was so focused on wanting to graduate from high school and go to college on time. All these milestones were so important, it pushed me to work through my recovery. The healing process happened in later years. I didn’t want my life to be impacted by this event. I was so young. I couldn’t process what had happened. I cared about going to prom.
It is hard for me to go to the finish line to watch. The past few years I’ve gone to Heartbreak Hill where we have a tent set up. I am so proud that day has turned into a fun and exciting thing for us.
Chris Tarpey, 63, Braintree, Massachusetts
I used to volunteer at the finish line, reading information about runners as they finished for the announcer. I’d watch the later waves cross, see people raise their arms and kiss the ground. That was my favorite part.
In 2013, I was waiting for a friend of my wife’s to finish. We were at Hereford and Commonwealth Avenue, but when she was late we started walking toward the finish line. Just before the bomb went off, a spot opened up next to the course a little to the left of where I was. That little move might have saved me from more serious injury, more than the loss of hearing, and shrapnel throughout my leg.
I never thought I would do the marathon, but my daughter died that June in a hiking accident in Hawaii. So I tried to run it myself and raise money for a scholarship in her name. I did it for six years in a row. The first year I gave two middle fingers to the sidewalk as I passed Marathon Sports on the way to the finish. I wondered after I did it if the people watching thought I was flipping them the bird, but I figured they probably understood.
Chris Troyanos, 66, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Boston Athletic Association medical coordinator since 1996
We reacted as best we could. I was in a medical tent on Dartmouth Street at the finish. I went out when I heard the first bomb, and then the second went off. You could see the panic of people coming toward us, and the smoke and smell the gunpowder. We have a massive tent, and the walls puffed in and out because of the pressure gradients, but people didn’t know and understand what happened, and it took time. I’m seeing body parts and blood on the sidewalk. I had to start resetting myself.
People were nervous about where to go, where is safe. I had no idea. I was guessing.
After 10 years, it gets easier and easier. To come back in 2014 was very hard for all of us. You are coming back to the scene of the crime.
Allison Elliott, 35, Taunton, Massachusetts
I had a co-worker who was running. We were just getting to a spot to watch the race at Marathon Sports. I had whiplash, a bad concussion and hearing loss and a lot of facial burns from sand and debris that had penetrated into my face. We tried to run down the street, and at that point in time the second explosion had gone off. Everyone started running toward each other from different directions.
I ran the next year but didn’t finish. We met outside Marathon Sports to train. You can go back to the space where something horrible happened and transform it into something powerful.
I have gone back every race day. One year it was the same weather as it was 10 years ago and it felt eerily the same. And it was a peaceful feeling.
Marc Fucarile, 44, Belton, Texas, and Boston
Spectator, hand cyclist
We went to support a friend of ours who was running in 2013, a Marine. Our whole group got injured, and three of the four of us lost limbs.
I did Boston in 2016 and 2017 to show my son and the people that supported us that I could do it. I’m here. When I started dating my now-wife, Nikki, she said, “I’d love to see you do a marathon.” So I said if I was going to do it once more, it would be on the 10-year anniversary.
I’m looking forward to it as closing a chapter of the Boston Marathon. Everything has been about me, about losing my leg, what I went through. I’m done with the focus on me, and I want to utilize all that I’ve learned in the past 10 years to focus on others more, to focus on those who are mobility impaired or people that suffered tragedy.
Des Linden, 39, Charlevoix, Michigan
Professional runner, 2018 Boston Marathon champion
It’s the most iconic marathon in the world, and the stretch to the line itself is historic. I remember saying in 2013, on Patriots’ Day, that is this where everyone wants to be. This is the focus of the running world but being on a Monday it’s the focus of the whole sports world.
I love this race. It’s what made me fall in love with the marathon. It’s such an epic experience.
You think of all the epic races and the iconic races that have run down that stretch, and then you think of all the masses of people and all their inspirational stories behind them. And you know that shared pride when you get to that finish line.
Thomas Eller, 42, Essen, Germany
This year, we all will have a Boston strong ribbon on our bib numbers to remember the 10th anniversary of the bombing. I have some friends who survived the bombings and they give me power and motivation all the time. I can’t wait to hug them at the finish line.
I remember the exact feeling I had when I crossed this Boston Marathon finish line. I had goose bumps all over my body and cried tears of joy. You have trained so hard to get that Boston qualifier and then you are a part of this historical race, the mother of all marathons.
It’s a beautiful running journey from Hopkinton to Boston, but it’s difficult, challenging and deserves to be respected.
As a deaf runner, I was pretty overwhelmed and surprised that I could feel all the screams from the Wellesley College students with my whole body (at the “scream tunnel” near the halfway mark) — I was amazed that I was able to feel the vibe there. Crossing the historical finish line of Boston was the cream of the crop of my marathon experiences.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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