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Boston bombings can't crush freedom of running for Pittsburgh Marathon participants

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Saturday, April 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

It's easy to be afraid.

When you think about the bloody streets, the amputated legs, and the innocent people killed and maimed at the Boston Marathon this week, the immediate reaction is to retreat and hide, agonize in fear and obsess about the what-ifs.

Not runners. Not the ones in Boston. And certainly not those who will hit the streets at the Pittsburgh Marathon in two weeks. To them, running equals freedom. To them, running is a celebration of the human spirit, a testament that if you put your mind to something, your body will follow through.

For those who've run through Pittsburgh's neighborhoods on marathon day — myself included — and those who've trained over the past months to do it for the first time, there's no terror attack in the world that will crush the motivation and hunger to run.

“I'm more motivated than ever,” Becky Willis, 30, of Tarentum, a first-time marathon runner, told me. “This event has brought us closer together. Why give up because of what someone else did?”

Willis is running in memory of her best friend, Wendy Kovach, who died of Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, about 15 years ago.

She also wants to raise money for Genre's Kids with Cancer Fund, a foundation started by the family of a North Huntingdon boy who battled leukemia.

“There's no reason to give up,” said Willis, who works in the information technology department at Giant Eagle's corporate offices.

No, there isn't. If we give up, we abandon not just the ability to fulfill a personal goal, but the freedom to do so openly in the streets of our neighborhoods. We abandon the thrill of being cheered by complete strangers who give runners cookies, chips and even beer. We pretty much abandon our right to be citizens of the world.

The marathon isn't just about the runners. Organizers are expecting more than 50,000 spectators.

Every runner will tell you how meaningful it is to see them lining the streets. I remember a group of grade-school students dancing on the North Side last year, cheering with big smiles as I ran by. It was clear this event isn't just about running.

“They want to take away the freedom where you pursue your life in a free, happy way,” said Kate Bielak of Harrison, who runs with a veterans group called Team Red White and Blue. “How can we let that happen?”

Team Red White and Blue is encouraging members who are running in Pittsburgh to carry American flags.

Mike Weaver, an Army veteran from Indiana, will carry a 3-foot-by-5-foot flag donated by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County. Weaver, 41, has been training with a PVC pipe to get used to the flag's weight.

Such perseverance only goes so far, though, and understandably so.

Willis told me that she won't bring her two children, Arianna, 4, and Evan, 2, to the finish line.

“It's sad because they've been watching me as I train,” she said. “But it's a safer option that works for me.”

Though the Boston Marathon bombings occurred hundreds of miles away, we felt them here nonetheless. Come May 5, it will be our turn to show that we stand right alongside our New England neighbors.

Pittsburgh comes alive during big sporting events. It shouldn't be any different this time around.

Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412 -320-7998 or

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