Boston is called the grandfather of marathons, being one of the oldest in the country. It is also one of the most fun races to run, thanks to all of the great support from spectators and fans.
It is run each year on a Monday, and the city celebrates “Patriots’ Day,” so all businesses are closed, allowing for more Bostonians to come out and cheer on the runners, and they do.
The Boston Red Sox have an early morning game and the fans let out when the bulk of the runners pass by the stadium. Running by Wellesley, an all-women’s college, the co-eds stand alongside the road with funny signs like, “Kiss me, I’m a Physics Major!” The finish is down the famous, but quaint shopping street, Boylston, temporarily housing stands for the fans to sit in and cheer.
After running my 26.2 miles, I ran through the finish scanning the stands for my wife Jenny who was supposed to be there to cheer me on, but I didn’t see her. This happens with so many runners and fans that it’s easy to miss each other. So I walked the first block from the finish line.
In minutes, I heard the sound of what I thought was a loud cannon. My first reaction was puzzlement. Why would they be firing a cannon in the middle of the race? I turned around and saw debris and smoke shooting from the building just to the right of the finish line. In that same instant, a second blast occurred.
I immediately thought of Jenny. She was supposed to be in the stands at the finish line, right where the blasts occurred. Surely she saw me pass, had already left, and was on her way back to the hotel where we were to meet. I continued to tell myself that over and over.
In the fog of the attack, no one knew what was happening. Were bombs being exploded? Were more on the way?
I couldn’t wait to get to my gear and my phone, because I could call Jenny to make sure she was okay. But when I turned on my phone, I discovered that security had jammed all service. It turns out this is standard practice because so many bombs can be activated by cell phones. But it gave me no way to find Jenny and to confirm she was safe and sound.
Now I tried to convince myself Jenny would be back in the hotel waiting for me. I made my way to the hotel as fast as I could. I went up the elevator and into the room, only to find the room empty.
My heart sank. Panic began to set in. I tried the hotel phone to call her, but she didn’t answer. I turned on the TV and began to learn about the carnage at the finish line. More panic. I tried Jenny’s phone again. No answer.
Then suddenly, she walked in the room. Our embrace was intense. And as none of us should ever have to be reminded, but sometime need to be -- nothing should be more important than the ones you love.
On that glorious, but tragic day in 2013, Jenny and I were the lucky ones. Some didn’t have family members come back to them. And some came back permanently disabled. But God had other plans for us that day, and we are thankful.
This coming Monday, I’ll be running again in Boston. It will be my 34th career marathon. And I’ll proudly run with thousands of others in the spirit of ‘Boston Strong.’
But it will also be a powerful reminder to me – and hopefully to everyone who remembers that tragic day – to cherish those you love and keep them close.
In the end, nothing is more important.
Knoxville businessman, philanthropist, a Republican candidate for governor of Tennessee, and an avid runner