Introduction by Warren Kirshenbaum
Two weeks ago I posted a reflective narrative on my experience at the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. That year was my first marathon and I was running with an exceptional charity called Project Hope, which offers shelter, job training, and life skills to some of our most disadvantaged citizens. Although I didn’t run this year, the feelings were still raw as I wrote my reflection. The memories of the 2013 Boston bombing also conjured up memories from my experience living in Manhattan on September 11th 2001. Both of these experiences had a profound impact on my outlook on life.
When my 2014 Marathon Team Hope member Dave Hamel reached out to me with his experience from the Boston Marathon, I was moved and wanted to share this with the Cherrytree Group blog readers. What struck me were the parallels that Dave had with the Boston Marathon Bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing. Although Dave did not run in the Boston Marathon in 2013 (the year of the bombing), as an active marathon runner and Massachusetts native, he was deeply impacted by the events. This led him to join the Project Hope Marathon Team for the 2014 Boston Marathon which was where I met him (I was running the Boston Marathon for The Project Hope Marathon team for a second time).
Our stories are just a few of many. While they are difficult to share, I hope that they inspire others to discuss their experiences from that day.
When I saw the Boston Marathon explosions live on TV on April 15, 2013, the first thing I noticed was the race clock at 4:09. It was an immediate recognition of my first marathon time of 4 hours and 9 minutes, and something seconds in 1990. But I estimated that I would have been about 3 miles behind the first explosion with the other confused runners. Twelve seconds later, the second bomb went off 600 feet away from the first one. All told, three died, 16 had lost limbs, and over 260 were injured. I was angered by the thought that someone is trying to destroy THEIR dream….MY dream! Do you really know what it takes to get to Boston? I could only imagine. I’d been unable to get there for 23 years! As a native of Springfield, Massachusetts, I was saddened but getting angrier about the terrorism and the evil that the Tsarnaev brothers were doing in my home state. They are really trying to steal away MY dream,…AGAIN!
Yes, A-gain! At that point, the April 15th date kicked off another set of emotions. But it was April 19, 1995. A truck with explosives detonated in front of the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. That powerful explosion blew off the building’s entire north wall. When the rescue effort finally ended two weeks later the death toll stood at 168 people, including 19 young children who were in the building’s day care center at the time of the blast. More than 650 other people were injured in the bombing, which damaged or destroyed more than 300 buildings in the immediate area. When I saw the news flash on TV, I was completely shocked! My wife Gloria and I were parked in nearly the same spot of that truck less than 24 hours before the explosion! We had walked to the YMCA just down the street from the Murrah building before proceeding to the Center of Reproductive Health just several blocks away for in-vitro-fertilization treatments. We were heartbroken after our first unsuccessful attempt to have a child and were starting our second series of visits when the explosion happened….but oh, the dead babies. That was a continual big replay highlight on the news as well as the famed picture on the front cover of Newsweek magazine of the firefighter with a dead infant in his arms. As the treatment continued so did our visits past the bomb site; day 6, day 11, etc, and the accumulating teddy bear memorials on the fence….our second attempt was also unsuccessful. We had enough embryos for one more try. The progesterone injections resumed, the hour and a half drives from Altus, Oklahoma resumed, and driving near the explosion recovery operations resumed. My wife and I had agreed to name the baby Murrah O’Kacity Hamel, should we be blessed with a child, to honor those lost. Unsuccessful again on our third attempt, heartbroken and broke, it felt like the bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had destroyed us too. We got on with life and our teddy bear went on my home office shelf. I came close to qualifying for Boston in the early 1990s and continued to run marathons kind of blindly like a Forest Gump runner…just needed to keep going. Then suddenly I was asked to fill a drop from the Project Hope marathon team. Wow, the opportunity of a lifetime! As I left home, I gazed at a “Stand Your Ground” Revolutionary War painting of Lexington, Massachusetts April 19, 1775 that was hung on my office wall... It was time to grab my musket and running shoes and go off to war! I dusted off the old teddy bear and placed him on my computer desk for Gloria to see. I was an emotional basket-case in Boston. But then I finally felt at ease to tell my story. This was the first time I had ever felt comfortable enough doing so with anyone. After all these years, it was just too personal. This was truly my time, at the right place, and with the right people.
I continued to talk and share my story with everyone while on our way to the bib number pickup. I suddenly felt overwhelmed and everything was coming back and everything was coming out. I had been holding back a lot of emotion, but I teared up and uncontrollably cried. With hundreds of excited runners all around, it didn’t matter. They felt the same way too! Many of them cried as we got closer to the bib number table. The journey of hope and anticipation was actually unfolding before our very eyes. Like many of us this special year, we would let it all out and leave it all here in Boston….all part of becoming "Boston Stronger"!
The race was my 104th marathon. I just felt good, took my time, shook hands, took pictures, hugged the girls at Wellesley…kinda like a tourist with running shoes. The timer didn’t matter on this run. It was all a slow motion show that I did not want to end. With great weather and thousands of spectators cheering the entire route, I absorbed every second of this run of a lifetime. At the top of Heartbreak Hill, the banner at Boston College said it all, “The Heartbreak Is Over!” Then it was onward to Boylston Street and past the two bomb sites. With clenched fists and arms raised, I stopped on the finish line, and yelled out to the heavens, “Yeah, finally!” It felt like we all had added our own page to local history, letting it be known that we also stood our ground here much like we did at nearby Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts in April of 1775. It was a continuation of the American spirit and resolve that no two Oklahoma City bombers, nor two Boston bombers, could ever truly destroy.