This week our national attention has been engrossed by the tragic events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing and the chillingly familiar feelings of uncertainty and sorrow it brought. The indiscriminate and unforeseeable nature of the violence forces us to confront our vulnerability. But just as previous attacks and catastrophes have done, the event is being shaped not only by the stories of unimaginable suffering and loss but also by stories of heroism. There are endless accounts of brave acts and genuine compassion coming from every corner of Boston, the U.S., and even the world at large. Between marathon finishers running directly to give blood, first responders and civilians attending to the wounded, and the hospitality Bostonians showed the world tragedy seems to have brought out the best.
For many, the bombings may be the first time they have turned their attention to the Boston Marathon. Without a doubt, this will prove to be a formative event in the race and town’s history, but the Boston Marathon is much more than a bombing. Thomas Grilk, the Executive Director of the Boston Athletic Association, said in a statement regarding the attacks that “the Boston Marathon is a deeply held tradition – an integral part of the fabric and history of our community.” Now the world’s oldest annual marathon, this race boasts a birth dating back to April of 1897 and has become one of the most prestigious races worldwide. Notorious for its stiff qualifying times and rigorous course, it holds a place within running community lore and has been the back drop for many of the sport’s most formative moments. Particularly, it has been an important proving ground for women and their assertion of belonging in the event. Although women were not allowed to officially participate in the marathon until 1972, courageous trailblazers began to push the limits much earlier. In 1966, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb became the first woman to run the entire marathon and was tailed a year later by Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to completed the race as a registered participant. The later was part of the infamous incident in which Jock Semple, a race official, tried to rip off her numbers and eject her from the race. While no female racers were killed this year in the bombing, two were killed on the sidelines, supporting and cheering on the racers, men and women alike.
What these women and the many heroes who emerged from Monday’s events show is a spirit of resiliency and commitment that should exemplify the Boston Marathon and its community. While Monday’s bombings were an immensely tragic event that should be remembered and learned from, it must not become this race’s defining characteristic. Every year, for nearly a century, thousands of people from across the world come together as athletes, spectators, support crews, and volunteers to help each other through 26.2 miles of toil and determination. This sort of comradery, both in past races and in the most recent, has overwhelmingly dwarfed the terribly dark actions seen at this year’s race.