The first person I recognized upon my arrival in Boston last Friday was Carlos Arredondo, the cowboy-hat-wearing Costa Rican-American who earned hero status a year ago when a photographer captured an image of him helping to rush a badly maimed Boston Marathon bombing victim to an ambulance.
It was a chance meeting, so I introduced myself. We chatted briefly. I left feeling inspired, invigorated, even more ready to experience the world’s most prestigious footrace, in perhaps the most symbolically important running of it since its inception 118 years ago.
I mention this because … well, let me tell you about the race.
Sgt. Daniel M. Clark sang the national anthem, and I fought back tears. Four HH-60M Air Ambulance Blackhawk helicopters with the Massachusetts Army National Guard flew over, and I swallowed a lump in my throat.
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The herds thundered out of the tiny town of Hopkinton, Mass., and headed east, into Ashland and Framingham. For the first several miles, I was focused on my race, on my personal goal. I tried to soak up the cheers from the crowds, which became massive once we entered Natick, but also kept busy looking at my watch.
Twelve miles into the Boston Marathon course, you travel along the campus of Wellesley College, famous on Marathon Monday for two things: coeds who scream until they’re hoarse, and coeds who for some reason want to plant a kiss on as many sweaty faces as possible.
I opted out of the smooch, but high-fived about 100 of them. And the tide began to shift.
The midday sun was beginning to sap my energy, but at the same time, the spirit of Massachusetts – and the resilience that’s been on display here for 12 months – was beginning to energize my soul.
Soon, we were in Newton, and rolling through its infamously leg-numbing hills. By the fourth one, between Mile 20 and 21 (you may have heard of Heartbreak Hill), I was fading quickly. I saw walking in my future.
And then we crested it, and hundreds if not thousands of maniacal-sounding Boston College students greeted us with bellows, beer breath and an insatiable appetite for high fives.
So I put down my competitive drive and completely let go. Over the last 5 miles, I high-fived the people of Brookline and the loved ones of other runners until both hands went numb, smiled through my fatigued and salt-streaked face, celebrated the event’s triumph over terror.
In Boston, I charged down Boylston faster than I’d run in more than an hour, slapping hands, trying not to cry. Then, literally three steps from the finish line, my calves locked up and I had to hobble across it.
I hunched over to massage them. Then heard someone calling my name, which I’d plastered onto the front of my shirt. I looked up, and Carlos Arredondo was standing in the bleachers and extending a hand to congratulate me. To say thank you for running.
All I could say was, “No, Carlos. Thank you.”