Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 24, 2014

Reclaiming the marathon from terror's grip

The Andover Townsman

---- — Monday’s running of the Boston Marathon was a celebration of the American spirit, a statement of defiance directed at those who wish us ill. The marathon has always been connected with Patriots Day, the holiday that marks the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the birth of our nation. Rarely has the connection been so strongly felt as this year.

Runners, organizers and spectators alike were determined to reclaim the race from the specter of terrorism that marred last year’s marathon. The goal was achieved in spectacular fashion.

Perhaps no contrast could be greater than that between this year’s men’s race winner, the triumphantly American Meb Keflezighi, and the wretched Tsarnaev brothers, accused of planting the bombs that killed three and injured 260 last year. Both the Keflezighi and Tsarnaev families came to the United States from war-torn nations, the former from Eritrea, the latter from Chechnya. The Keflezighi family moved to San Diego when Meb was 12. He went on to a career as a track star at UCLA and won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. After the Tsarnaevs moved to Cambridge, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar embraced radical Muslim politics and nurtured a seething hatred of the country that welcomed them.

Keflezighi was injured and unable to race in last year’s Boston Marathon. He was a spectator on the sidelines when the Tsarnaevs’ bombs exploded. As he recalled for the press after the race, thoughts of the victims and the determination to be “Boston Strong” kept him going as he tired. Written on his racer’s bib were the names of the four victims of last year’s terror: Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, Krystle Campbell and Sean Collier, the MIT police officer killed by the Tsarnaevs three days later.

Keflezighi indeed proved to be “Boston Strong.” He became the first American to win the race since 1983 and at 38 is the oldest men’s winner since 1931.

There were other inspiring stories from the race.

Marblehead’s Shalane Flanagan led the women’s field for much of the race before falling back in the Newton hills. She finished seventh as Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo claimed the women’s title.

The elite runners are only part of the story. The ordinary runners totaled more than 35,000, the second-largest field in Boston Marathon history. Among them were many who had been unable to complete last year’s race as the bombs turned the finish line ahead of them into chaos.

Jeff Glasbrenner told the Associated Press he returned to Boston for some “unfinished business.” Glasbrenner had been forced to stop at mile 25.9 last year following the bombing.

“I felt like those two bad guys stopped a lot of people from going after their dreams. I needed to come back,” said Glasbrenner, 41, who runs with a prosthetic right leg after losing part of his leg in a childhood farming accident.

Also crossing the finish line were some of those injured in last year’s attack.

Lee Ann Yanni, whose left leg was badly injured in the bombing, said she could feel the energy of the crowd pushing her to the finish.

“It was really emotional crossing the finish line,” she told the Associated Press. “We got our finish line back. That’s all that mattered.”

Security at the race was heavy, with cameras and police everywhere. It was an unfortunate but necessary measure that was, for the most part, unobtrusive.

Thanks to the efforts of runners, organizers and spectators alike, the Boston Marathon is back where it belongs — out of the hands of terrorists and solidly in the hearts of the people of New England.