Gorman: No room for fear at finish line
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Five days after explosions erupted near the Boston Marathon finish line, 700-plus runners will observe a moment of silence at the starting line in Little Boston.
That's the Elizabeth Township neighborhood where the Boston Trail half marathon will be run Saturday, signaling that a dastardly and deathly act cannot destroy the running spirit.
Their message: There's no room for fear at the finish line.
“It's a place for tears of joy,” Baldwin High School track coach Rich Wright said, “not sorrow.”
Wright works the finish line at races big and small, from the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 5 to Brentwood's Firecracker 5K on the Fourth of July, helping to usher the runners to medals or the medical tent.
So you can only imagine the emotions Wright felt when he saw what happened Monday on Boylston Street in Boston, where two bombs killed three people and injured almost 200.
“This really bothered me. I won't even lie,” he said. “It's such a sacred thing. The best part at the finish line is to see people bend down and kiss the ground, hug each other, tears in their eyes that they made it, accomplishing something in their lifetime they never believed they would. It gives me goose bumps every time.
“Those things are really, truly priceless, to see that at the end. The elite athletes are there to win the money or set a (personal-best time), but a lot of marathoners are trying to get a qualifying time for Boston. That's a thrill. I know it was a thrill to me.”
The Boston Marathon is personal to Wright, who has run it nine times. The first came three years after he and his wife were nearly killed in an auto accident.
His recovery involved running, and he hasn't stopped since. Wright has run at least one mile every day for nearly 23 years. His 8,325-day streak is approaching 50,000 miles and is the world's 93rd-longest, according to the U.S. Running Streak Association.
That includes 23 marathons, including a trip to the Boston Marathon after his essay was one of three winners of a Runner's World magazine contest.
From the traditional start in Hopkintown through the towns that lead to Boylston Street, it was an incredible experience.
“For us Pittsburghers, that Monday is just a regular day,” Wright said. “In Boston, Patriots Day is such a huge holiday. So many people come out for that race. No other race has the spectators like Boston does.
“When you turn on Boylston, that excitement is just electrifying, seeing the finish line a quarter-mile away and the streets just jammed with spectators. The people that were injured and killed were waiting for loved ones. Obviously, there's 26.2 miles to a marathon. They could have set these off anywhere, but there would not have been the sensationalism with the news media if not for the finish line.”
I spoke with Wright on Friday afternoon while we were watching national news following the manhunt for one of the suspects of the act of terror that forever tainted the 117th Boston Marathon. He fought back tears while reminiscing running the race.
“One of my favorite moments was when my son, Jimmy, came out and met me with 3 1⁄2 miles to go,” Wright said. “He was about 13 or 14 and wearing a Baldwin shirt, and the whole way in people were cheering, ‘Go Baldwin.' He said, ‘Dad, that's all for you.' ”
That's the kind of moment Bill Richard had when his son, Martin, hugged him at the finish line. Moments later, the 8-year-old boy was killed by a bomb hidden in a backpack.
“They took advantage of something that is so sacred and special to people,” Wright said. “You feel at any sporting event that you're safe. The runners are so excited. They have been training so long and you have to qualify for Boston. The people coming in at that time were slower runners or people fundraising for charities. They went in the heart of the race, when there's a lot of people there.”
That's where it hits you.
I have watched thousands of runners cross the finish lines of the Pittsburgh Marathon at David L. Lawrence Convention Center, West General Robinson Street on the North Shore and its current location on the Boulevard of the Allies. I have witnessed marriage proposals and scenes of triumph.
Where that bomb exploded on Boylston Street in Boston is about the same distance from the finish line where I stood last year while cheering on my younger brother, Brian, as he completed his first (and, as he immediately vowed afterward, last) marathon.
It could have happened anywhere. That it happened near the finish line in Boston, the destination marathon for runners, only made it more menacing. On Patriots Day, no less.
Yet 700-plus runners will stand in silence Saturday at the starting line of the half marathon in Little Boston.
In two weeks, tens of thousands will run for the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon.
Rich Wright will be waiting when the last runner crosses.
“When you see those tears of joy at the finish line, they overcome anything,” Wright said. “We do not let someone who's done all that work not celebrate it. We have a ceremony for everyone who finishes.”
This time, it will be in memory of those who didn't.
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