Boston marathoners sport defiant joy in race return

The New York TimesApril 22, 2014 

BOSTON -- Under bright, sunny skies and heavy security, more than 30,000 racers took part Monday in the Boston Marathon a year after two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others.

The attack, which shattered a joyous city tradition more than a century old, led thousands of runners from around the country to sign up to compete in the marathon as an expression of support and defiance.

Organizers said the race featured nearly 36,000 racers, 9,000 more than usual, as well as a record crowd of 1 million people, twice the usual number.

They saw a thrilling finish among the elite male competitors, as Meb Keflezighi became the first American to win the race since 1983. Rita Jeptoo of Kenya defended her title in the women's race.

The first racers, those in wheelchairs, crossed the finish line shortly after 10:30 a.m. as crowds of spectators roared their approval.

Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa, who was born with congenital birth defects, was first, giving him his 10th Boston Marathon win. As he finished, he began to sob in the middle of Boylston Street.

"The last five miles was a tunnel of people," he told the race's official announcer. "Last year was just terrible, and coming back and

seeing how strong Boston has become, and seeing all the people, it's a big moment."

Donna Tripp and her three stepchildren left the family's suburban home in Whittman, Mass., on Monday just after 7 a.m. to take the train to watch Scott Tripp, Donna Tripp's husband, run a race the bombing had prevented him from completing last year.

"Mostly we've come to watch him cross the finish line," said Jacqui Tripp, 12, as she clutched a pole on the T, Boston's subway, on her way to mile 17 of the route. "I'm proud of my dad."

Jacqui and her twin sister wore matching yellow and blue "Boston Strong" T-shirts, the ubiquitous slogan that has come to represent the city's resilience after the attack.

Last year, Scott Tripp was about one mile short of the finish line on Boylston Street when the bombs were detonated. His family, which was among the crowd, heard the explosions.

"We are here with mixed emotions," Donna Tripp said Monday, recounting the three hours of confusion and anxiety it took to reconnect with her husband after the bombing. "But we're 'Boston Strong.'"

Referring to a year of grief that continues to grip the city, Donna Tripp said, "I don't think this will be end of everything, but it will make people stronger knowing we don't fear what they want us to fear."

Before the start of the race Monday, a young woman was overwhelmed with emotion and began sobbing near the finish line. A police officer approached and the two spoke for several minutes.

He said later the woman had not been back to Boylston Street since last year and being there had brought back a surge of frightening memories. The officer said he told her he had been there, too, and he understood how she felt. The best thing, he said, was for her to let her feelings out.

After the conversation, the young woman regrouped, went through security and walked down Boylston Street.

As the day continued, emotion remained high.

Some survivors emerged from a secure location to cross the finish line with people who ran on their behalf. Many spectators had their eyes on the finish line and held their breath at 2:49 p.m., the time the first bomb exploded last year. The second bomb exploded 12 seconds later.

The race is steeped in tradition. It is the world's oldest annually contested marathon -- Monday's event is the 118th running of the race -- and is held the third Monday in April to coincide with Patriots' Day, which commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the American Revolution.

It is a school holiday and features a morning Red Sox game, a mix that typically creates a boisterous, party-like atmosphere around the region.

Dan Mercurio, who completed the race last year and was waiting for a friend to finish when the bombs exploded, was among those who returned Monday. He lost his hearing for several hours, he said, but was otherwise uninjured.

"I definitely think it's going to be tough for me to turn onto Boylston," Mercurio said, referring to the street where the race ends and where the bombs went off. "Just knowing how close I was last year, knowing exactly what I saw."

He added, "I think mentally for me, though, I have to go through this experience, to help me fully get back to normal."

There is no denying this year's marathon was different. At 6 a.m., more than 100 National Guard soldiers began walking the entire route from Hopkinton to Copley Square in Boston.

A moment of silence was held at 8:45 a.m. for those who died in relation to last year's marathon: Krystle Campbell, 29; Lu Lingzi, 23; and Martin Richard, 8, all spectators killed at the finish line; and Sean Collier, 27, an MIT police officer killed a few days later amid the search for two suspects in the bombing.

This year's silence also honored the more than 260 people who were injured, as well as the police officers, firefighters, medical personnel and bystanders who rushed in to help.

Dave Shaw, 49, a runner from Houston, expressed the defiant spirit that is motivating many of the marathoners and spectators. He did not run last year, he said, but as soon as he heard that bombs had disrupted the race, he vowed to come this year.

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