First, I have children and many of the victims of this tragedy were families and children.
Second, I do some part-time work for an organization that is based in Boston and I have many friends who live there. Ironically, much of the work of that organization is to prevent violence in our communities, much like what occurred on Monday.
Third, I am a runner. Many of my friends are runners. And this attack in Boston was an attack at an event that is considered, by most, the pinnacle event of the running community.
How did I become a runner? About a year ago, I was at the heaviest weight I had ever experienced and needed to do something for my health. One of my friends suggested I should join a group of guys running in the mornings. I delayed joining the group and came up with every excuse in the book (too early, too fat, too slow, my back hurts) to avoid running with the guys. Eventually, he wore me down and I agreed to run with the group.
When I arrived that first morning, I met several of the guys for the first time and felt I needed to make excuses for what would inevitably be an embarrassing experience. They didn’t seem to care about my running (or lack thereof) credentials. They were just genuinely happy that I was there. In fact, one guy told me, “Matt, watching you running like this is an inspiration to us all!”
The healthy guy committed to a healthy lifestyle tells the fat guy running for the first time that I am an inspiration. That comment bounced around in my head, not just during what turned out to be the painful experience I had expected, but for days following. An inspiration ... me?
I came back for another run ... and another ... and another. Gradually, I got faster. Gradually, I lost weight. And gradually, I began to enjoy running. Not because I enjoyed the pain that went with running, but because of the fellowship and the spirit of support these guys shared so freely. It was something I wanted to be a part of ... a community I needed to be a part of.
But this “spirit of support” seemed to span further than my little running group. I have witnessed this spirit and the giving nature of the running community, over and over again. In fact, most running events are held for the sole purpose to raise money for worthy causes. But that spirit isn’t just corporate and philanthropic. It is more personal than that.
It was never more evident than at a recent half-marathon I participated in. As we were all milling around waiting for the race to begin, a heavy man walked toward the group. This man was easily 300 pounds or more and you could see that he simply struggled to walk carrying all that weight. But what caught my eye was that he was wearing a race number. He was joining the group to begin running a half-marathon ... 13.1 miles!
Suddenly, I heard someone start clapping ... and then another. Before long, the entire group was applauding this man. As he worked himself toward the starting line, many were patting him on the back and cheering him on. He hadn’t taken an “official” step in the race, but he was a runner. He accepted the challenge, put on the bib and toed the start line. He had courage and he was strong. I am uncertain on how he finished that day, but by the look on his face, I have no doubts that he is a different man. Not because of the running, but because of the spirit of the runners.
So Monday’s events in Boston were personal. Not just because the guys I run with run a pace that would put them at the finish line precisely at 4:09:44 when the first device exploded, but because I know those runners. I know their families and loved ones waiting hours to cheer them on. I know the volunteers supporting their efforts, and I know this community, the running community.
And what I know is that this community is courageous and strong. It is stronger than any coward who would place a bomb in a crowd of husbands and wives, sons and daughters. But this tragedy will not crush this community. It will make it even stronger.
Watch as the running community, the families that were victims, Boston, and the entire country become stronger from this event ... because that is who we are. We are runners. Even if we put on a number and are toeing the line for the first time, we are courageous ... we are strong.
(Editor’s Note: Matt has a family of six — a beautiful wife, a son, two daughters, Tucker, and five chickens. Matt’s column appears in the Cleveland Daily Banner. Matt is a runner, and he wants the runners, the families who experienced this tragedy and all of Boston to know that we are all praying for you.)