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Boston Marathon: To the stragglers, with love

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An injured woman is tended to at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts.
Photo: The Boston Globe, John Tlumacki / AP

The night before two explosions ripped through crowds at the Boston Marathon leaving three dead and more than 100 injured, I was sitting on my couch in Vegas giddily looking up the Boston weather report. I didn’t have any particularly close friends running this year and I wasn’t heading to Boston myself, I just wanted to feel close to my hometown on my favorite day of the year. I turned to my Baltimore-born boyfriend and told him the same thing I’d been saying all weekend: “Next year, we’re going home for the marathon. You just have to see it. It’s the best day of the year.”

This year, it will undoubtedly be one of the worst.

I grew up alongside Newton’s famous Heartbreak Hill, a point in the race where runners who have battled through 20 miles and four brutal hills hit the proverbial wall. Every year growing up, I joined the crowds outside Boston College and screamed myself hoarse as men and women streamed by on their way to Copley Square. It felt like a big party with some very sweaty guests of honor.

And every year after the marathon’s cut-off time I witnessed another, smaller tradition. As dusk approached—when the finish line theatrics had closed down and traffic along the race route had opened back up—my dad would walk back to Commonwealth Avenue to cheer on the stragglers who refused to quit. He’d shout a few words of encouragement, clap his hands and speak with admiration about these marathon misfits, plodding on toward Copley Square without water stations or admiring crowds, surrounded by used cups and passing cars. These are the people I think of when I think about the Boston Marathon.

Today, there were no stragglers. Thanks to the horrific actions of an anonymous evil, one of the most time-honored, beloved occasions in sports was transformed into a tragedy that witnesses compared to a war zone. Still, as the trauma unfolded, I saw police, volunteers, medical personnel and spectators demonstrate the same perseverance and strength that has always marked the Boston Marathon. In the face of destruction and pain, Boston fought back with kindness, generosity and compassion.

I want to find the people responsible for today’s misery. I want them to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But most of all, I want there to be stragglers next year. I’ll be cheering for them.

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