Why Boston survivors are returning to the race

Marathon runner

Last year’s Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt terrorized Boston and its surrounding suburbs, but the fear of those few days has been decidedly replaced with a new feeling: determination.

Determination not to let the Marathon’s attackers change one of the most renowned races in the world. Determination not to let fear overcome ability and effort. Determination to continue running as a symbol of unity and strength. Determination, by those who endured the worst injuries from the blasts one year ago today, to not let their loss define their future. Determination, by all, to spread the message of the good that comes from the race.

That is why so many – including those hurt in last year’s bombings – are returning this year for the 118th Boston Marathon.

Demi Knight Clark had just crossed the finish line in last year’s race when the bombs went off. She and her family, waiting at the finish line on the opposite side of the street from the bombing, made it away unscathed. But in the ensuing months, Clark developed signs of post-traumatic stress, becoming fearful of public places and feeling pressure to act stronger than she felt. She wavered on returning to this year’s race, questioning her motives and deciding if she could answer the call to be “Boston strong.” Ultimately, Clark realized we have a choice to either “slough along and go through life again as if nothing happened, or you can acknowledge it and say, ‘You know what, I’m a better person for this,’ and get up and put your big-girl pants on and just go.” She hopes to make it a great day.

Others, though similarly tentative, are making the same decision.

Joe D’Arrigo and his four daughters have all run the Boston Marathon. Combined, in fact, they have almost 40 Boston finishes, but never all at the same time. Last  year was their attempt to change that, but they were stopped short of 26.2 when the bombings preceded their opportunity to finish the race. D’Arrigo says that Marathon day is like Christmas, and he is determined to continue the tradition with his family.

About 34,000 other registered runners will join Clark, D’Arrigo and his daughters this coming Monday, April 21. Memories from last year will linger, but each participant’s story supports the collective determination to continue running. Some run to complete unfinished business, some run to carry on a tradition, some run in honor of those who can’t, and still others run to prove that despite setbacks, they still can.

From this collective determination comes another, equally powerful feeling: inspiration. This is a story about the power of good from a community coming together to carry on an athletic tradition, of runners and their supporters promoting each other’s common goals and driving one another to let determination, not fear, prevail.

Everyone returning to the race expects that determination to pay off. Nicole Gross was at last year’s race to watch her mother cross the finish line, but her photo became a household image as a magazine cover from the site of the explosions. Nicole has recovered and will be returning to watch her mother and brother run this year’s race and, more than fear, her feeling is of hope.

It will be a great moment to watch them cross that finish line,” Nicole says, “and take back the joy of race day.” 

About Jeffrey B. Eisenberg, M.A. // Coordinator, New Media, Communications and Events, ISSCD

At Neumann, Jeff works to build the Institute’s communication strategy with a focus on developing valuable resources relevant to student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and all groups the Institute strives to reach. He also serves as a co-chaplain of the Neumann Cross Country and Track & Field teams. Jeff holds a B.A. and M.A. in Strategic Communication from Villanova University.

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