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In the Suburbs / 'Boston Strong' inspires as symbol of rejuvenation

Published 6:54 am, Monday, April 28, 2014
  • Meb Keflezighi of San Diego was the first American man to win the Boston Marathon since 1983. Photo: Associated Press / Fairfield Citizen
    Meb Keflezighi of San Diego was the first American man to win the Boston Marathon since 1983. Photo: Associated Press

 

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Meb Keflezighi was a name I struggled to pronounce when I read that he was the first American man in three decades to win the Boston Marathon. But he ran "Boston Strong" in last Monday's race.

The San Diego resident and 2004 Olympic silver medalist ran with the names of last year's bombing victims on his marathon bib, and when he crossed the finish line, Keflezighi broke into tears and draped himself in the American flag.

His victory was monumental in a marathon that featured a record 32,000 runners and more than a million spectators who refused to be intimidated by last year's terrorist attack. This year's marathon was one to treasure because there was so much to celebrate and so many memories from 2013.

There were probably hundreds if not more runners from Connecticut and probably a lot of those, like last year, were from our area. And I was impressed when those who were interviewed echoed the sentiment that they were running because the only way to beat terrorism was to show "Boston Strong" pride and keep running.

A year ago, many of those runners never got to cross the finish line and wanted that chance this time. Others wanted to come back to try again and run for the three people who died and 260 who were injured. And still more who had never before run 26 miles trained for and ran in this marathon as a commitment to squash terrorism.

Last year's events were mostly a blur for me because the entire tragedy was so surreal. As I recall, one minute there were scores of runners crossing the finish line on Boylston Street and the next there were puffs of smoke, runners scattering and victims in the street, on the sidewalk and viewing stands.

The questions began immediately. Was this a terrorist attack? Why? What sick person or persons would want to attack this marathon?

Within hours, the answers started to pour in.

Soon a manhunt was underway for two brothers with Islamic ties, and by the weekend after the race, the older brother was dead and the younger brother had fled into nearby Watertown. He was later captured in residential neighborhood in Watertown, where was hiding in a boat being stored at the end of a driveway. We learned he had been seriously wounded.

As he was driven away in an ambulance, neighborhood residents wildly cheered law-enforcement officers at the scene.

The alleged bomber is about to stand trial in federal court. According to reports, he remains belligerent about his alleged actions and the trial is likely to be sensational.

I shed a lot of tears during the days immediately following the attack, especially for the victims and the scores of injured -- some of whom lost limbs. I wondered how one handles the devastation of learning that, to move on, you'll do it on a prosthetic leg -- or two.

But so many of the injured bounced back with strong resolve and courageously adjusted to their new lifestyles. They faced down devastation and through pure grit found rejuvenation. And so many were there Monday to cheer the runners.

According to an Associated Press story, Rita Jepson, of Kenya, "defended the women's title she said she couldn't enjoy a year ago." She set a women's course-record in winning the race for the third time.

"I came here to support the people in Boston and show them that we are here together," the told the AP.

President Barack Obama congratulated the two winners, emphasizing that all runners showed the world the meaning of "Boston Strong."

This year's Boston Marathon helped us focus on what is truly important about this long-standing race -- the coming together of runners, celebrating the pure joy of completing a major physical challenge and being part of a more than 100-year-old tradition in a city steeped in history.

With an American crossing the finish line first, nothing could be more exhilarating. Now all of us are Boston Strong.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.