Off The Wall: The Boston Marathon

Steve Skinner’s living room is lined with old copies of Sports Illustrated. One by one, he’s taking them Off the Wall.

It is part of what is rapidly becoming a growing collection of Sports Illustrateds depicting tragedy in sports. Alongside the 9/11 issue and two over from the San Francisco World Series quake issue now hangs the April 15, 2013 SI with the words “BOSTON..In Photos And Words …” on its cover.  The picture shows a runner knocked over by the first of two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and three of Boston’s finest rushing to the scene with guns drawn. As with its two companions on my wall, this magazine depicts a moment in time that transcends the sport and injects harsh reality into an otherwise celebratory event.

Only this one is more personal to me.

I was there.

We had made the trip from our home in Upstate New York to Boston so that we could cheer on my son as he ruck marched the Marathon with a group of Army ROTC cadets from Syracuse University. They had trained for the race months ahead of time and it was going to be their crowning achievement – a memory they would have forever. More importantly, they were doing it for a very worthy cause (as were most of the participants in the race) – the Green Beret Foundation – a group dedicated to supporting the ill and wounded in our country’s Special Forces.

Looking up Chestnut waiting for cadets to come by

The weather was perfect for a marathon, or so I suppose. As we sat on a wall near the Chestnut Hill reservoir at the intersection of Commonwealth and Chestnut, the sky was clear except for an occasional wave of passing clouds and the temperature stayed in the low 50′s. If I was a runner, this is how I’d want the day to be.

People gathered along the route and excitement filled the air as the time for the athletes to arrive drew closer. You could just feel the sincere admiration emanating from both sides of the street.

We kept peering down the course to find any indication that the cadets were coming. Dressed in Syracuse orange, we were proud to be associated with such a tremendous group of individuals. All of them are college students dedicated to one day defending our country and when the time for them to walk by our spot came, they were greeted with cheers and handshakes from complete strangers lining the roadway. They were from Syracuse, but on that day everyone in Boston was family.

Once they passed us we followed them as far as we were physically able. I was in awe at the number of cheers of “‘CUSE!!” and “GO ORANGE!” that rang out from both sides of the street. I can’t imagine how they must have felt hearing the heartfelt support while pushing their bodies to the limits of physical endurance.

We made it to within a couple of blocks of the finish line before the density of the crowd prevented us from advancing any further. We stood there for a few minutes just taking in the whole experience and thinking about where we would head to see the cadets before returning home.

About an hour later we ended up in a restaurant roughly four blocks from the spot where we had stopped and ate at a table near the weary cadets. The food was great and we were able to congratulate our heroes and wish them well before heading out.

As we walked towards the nearest T-line station sirens rang out from seemingly every corner of the city. My first thought was that there was a major fire somewhere nearby, and it wasn’t until we were met by a mass of people walking in the opposite direction that I knew it wasn’t just a fire.

People were crying and nearly everyone I saw was desperately trying to get a call through on their cell phone. I caught the end of a conversation that one weeping girl was having on her phone. “..and MTA has shut down all transportation.  All the subways are closed!” she said between sobs. Suddenly I felt like I had been transported into one of the many 9/11 films I’ve watched.  Rather than casually watching on TV, I was smack dab in the middle of an unfolding national tragedy.

At the entrance to the T-line station a woman was on top of a mailbox announcing to the crowd that there had been two explosions near the finish line and all public transportation was stopped.

The cadets and all participants were greeted by heartfelt support every step of the way.

Hundreds of people stood at the corner of the street. Some leaned against buildings while others tried to peer towards the race’s finish in an effort to catch a glimpse of what they had been told.

Some cried, some comforted, some just looked bewildered.

My wife asked me who would do such a thing. My reply, based in anger, worry, and fear was “Cowards.  Gutless cowards who probably did it in the name of a gutless God”.

I still stand by that statement today.

I would later find out that the spot where we stopped following the race and stood taking it all in was directly across the street from where the second bomb exploded.  With that knowledge came a flood of “what ifs”.  What if the cadets had started the race just an hour later?  What if one of their group had  been injured and delayed their finish? A person could slowly kill themselves pondering the “what ifs”.

Like its two predecessors, this SI hangs on my wall not as a reminder of a grim snapshot in time.  Rather, it hangs in tribute to the resilience of our country. Boston will heal and Boston will move forward.

It’s something the cowards just don’t get. If their intention was to instill fear, they have failed miserably. The Boston Marathon will carry on and many of the victims from that day will be entered into next year’s race.  I know my son has already dedicated himself to being there in 2014 and marching the course again.  Those robbed of completing the race will be back to finish what they started.

All the cowards did in the name of whatever spineless deity they’ve conjured up is strengthened our resolve and emboldened our confidence in our way of life.

Those that lost their lives at the hands of cowards will never be forgotten.

In short, they’ve failed and they always will.

I witnessed acts of kindness and support before, and after the explosions.  Those are things that carry on in people regardless of any outside influences. They are the reason that the cowards’ efforts shall forever be fruitless.

This Sports Illustrated will be my most cherished because of the pride I have for my son, his fellow cadets, the city of Boston, and my country. While I pray for those that are lost and those that now face the biggest challenge of their lives as a result of cowardly acts, I look forward to being there next year and cheering them on again.

Those that died on that day will forever be carried in the soul of the race. Their innocence has become our courage and their loss is now the flame that burns inside.


Steve Skinner writes for TheFanManifesto. He can be followed on twitter at @oswegos1.  The entire FanMan team can be followed on twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or liked on facebook by clicking here.





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