In the video that seemed to be in endless loop on ESPN this afternoon, you can see a man in what looks like an orange-colored singlet, running near the gutter along Boylston Street, approaching the finish line of the Boston Marathon. He looks like he might be kind of old. He has covered more than 26 miles at that point, and is almost done. He has worked very hard to get to there, probably having run some 400 miles in the last few months, probably through some cold and ice (Boston being a spring marathon and not caring that the training weather in the months leading up to it is less than ideal). He probably had a few mind-numbingly long treadmill sessions under his belt, too. Aches and pains. Missed parties and movies, all in the name of training.
The finish line is in sight. Finally. He’ll be able to stop. Some nice volunteers will give him a bottle of water, an apple, maybe a cheese stick and a bag of potato chips, all designed to speed his recovery after such a long run. They’ll wrap him in a silver blanket to hold in the heat, and he’ll totter off on legs as stiff as stovepipes to meet his family, maybe his kids and grandkids, who will ooh and aah over his finisher’s medal.
He’s been out there more than four hours. Four hours is a long time to do anything, let alone run up and down deceptively steep hills along the marathon’s course. He’s almost done. His goal is in sight. Given the speed he’s running, there’s a good chance he was running to raise money for a charity. Boston’s rigorous qualifying standards are suspended for charity fundraisers who tend to be long in dedication and shorter in speed. So it could be this guy is out there helping out sick kids, or honoring someone — maybe a friend or spouse — who’s died.
He’s running. He’s almost done. And then he goes down. A shock wave, or maybe a piece of glass or shrapnel, causes his legs to buckle and he drops like a sack of sand. All around him people keep running. They turn and look, but they keep running. Because if ever there were a good time to run, and run away, it would be at that moment. But running is what they know. So they run. Because how could they even comprehend what has just happened, that a bomb went off during something as benign, as playful, as peaceful as a marathon? It defies logic.
The old guy goes down. And the video I saw stops. Right there. He’s down. So close. What happens? Does he get up and run? Is he one of the grievously wounded? Did he die? I wonder. I have to know.
(Turns out his name is Bill Iffrig, 78 years-old, and — thank goodness — he’s fine, aside from a minor knee scrape. In fact, he even crossed the finish line with help from officials. “Just the shock from the blast was the only damage,” he said.)
Warning: Video is graphic
I ran the Boston Marathon in 2002. As a charity runner, raising money for research into Parkinson’s Disease. My mother, a swimmer as strong as she was tough, was withering from the disease. So I ran to honor her. To help her. I finished in a bit more than four hours. My wife, pregnant with twins, and my one year old son waited for me just past the finish line. With my sister and brother-in-law. My family. Maybe 100 yards from where that bomb went off.
I was that guy in the orange-colored singlet. I had stove-piped legs. I ran by the gutter on Boylston Street. My knees were buckling.
It could have been me.
It could have been any of us.
I grew up in Boston. Going to the 11am game at Fenway on Patriots Day, then cheering the leaders through Kenmore Square. I walked down Boyslton Street hundreds of times, from the Dog House to the Public Library, literally hundreds of times before I ever ran down it.
I grew up in Boston. You can hear it in my voice when I’m tired or have had too much wine, or when I’m mad.
Tonight, you can hear it in my voice.