From Triumph to Tragedy

Our world was shook (sadly, again) on Monday, April 15, 2013. The bombs that killed three and injured countless others during the Boston Marathon impacted all of us as Americans and human beings. While brothers from our Massachusetts Beta (Brandeis) Chapter and Boston Alumni Association were all safe, they, like all us, were rattled. Each of us is connected in some way, some deeper than others. The tragedy came in the midst of an annual day of celebration, where thousands of runners unite for cause and community. Among that community was Brother Jeff Maher (Kansas '87, pictured in orange jacket below, prior to the race) who was competing in his third Boston Marathon and reflected afterwards on the emotional journey...

Arrival in Hopkinton.jpgAs I have had time to reflect on all that I experienced over the weekend in Boston many emotions come to mind: euphoria, excitement, anticipation, pride, disappointment, anger, sadness, and emptiness. A weekend full of hi's and lows. I was filled with euphoria arriving at Logan [Airport] on Saturday afternoon with the town buzzing with and for the marathoners. Excitement filled me at the expo seeing new faces getting to run Boston for the first time and vets proud to be back. 

Attending the charity dinner on Saturday night where our groups collectively have raised over $800,000 for non-profits (Brother Maher raced for Jumpstart, a charity aimed at making sure all children are prepared when entering school, raising nearly $44,000 through his running the Boston Marathon) was such a fun time and I was able to meet my charity teammates and celebrate with pride all we have accomplished so far. Getting up early Sunday morning and running the BAA 5k with 6500 others and getting to run the last mile of the finish line was anticipatory as people gathered in the grandstands to cheer us on. Knowing that the next day these streets would be lined 10-15 people deep and packed was an overwhelming thought. I attended a dinner with 20 other Kansas City area folks on Sunday night and we all talked about our goals and dreams for Monday's race with the enthusiasm of a 5-year-old getting up for Christmas morning! 

The race: A group of us met the buses at 6:15 a.m. in The Common and took the 26.2 mile ride out to Hopkinton to the Athlete's Village. I had a bagel and a banana for breakfast which is my pre-race meal. Excitement bubbled, anticipation grew. It was a beautifully cool morning with the sun peaking through clouds. As they called the Wave 1 start on the loud speakers, I got up and began making the mile walk toward the starting line. I met a friend in my corral and we decided to start the race together. There was a 26-second moment of silence at the start for the 26 people killed in the Newtown, CT shooting which was very touching. 

With that, the elite athletes were introduced to the crowd and the gun went off. I began my journey through the marathon course with a time goal of 3:10 and feeling well trained and ready to [set a personal record; PR]. I wore a pace band and knew what I wanted to do for each mile split. By mile 3, I was a little quicker than the pace I needed but not too fast. By mile 9, I was a little ahead of pace. At the half, I was needing to cross at 1:33:18 and I crossed at 1:32:36- still on pace, however, I was starting to tire and I knew the Newton hills still were ahead. By mile 16, at the beginning of the hills, I was 70 seconds ahead of goal but here we go... four significant hills over the next five miles. 

Not to be too graphic but I started to burp up my hydration products around this time. By mile 19, I had given up some time but fighting on 20 seconds ahead of my pace band. The next two miles, 20 and 21, the infamous Heartbreak Hill section, really took the steam out of me. I was now now two minutes off my pace. I was spent, physically and mentally. The last 5 miles needless to say were way off pace, every one of them. I took short walk breaks every half to quarter mile losing valuable time. It was not my day to have a great race. 

At mile 22, I stopped to stretch it in the middle of the road and the crowd was great urging me on 'come on Jumpstart, you got this!' (I was wearing a Jumpstart singlet) So encouraging, yet frustrating that my body wouldn't and couldn't do what my mind was telling it to do. As I would start to run again the crowd would go ballistic, 'GO JUMPSTART- you are awesome!' It really does make you feel like a rock star. I would wave and smile not because I felt good, but just because I could not help but acknowledge them. Has someone ever MADE you smile when you thought you could not? That was it. I didn't want to wave or smile, that would take energy right? But I smiled and waved and trudged along. It was at this point that I allowed myself to let go and just try to enjoy the crowds more, finish this race with a smile on my face taking it all in as I hit Hereford and then Boylston St. 

I did pay attention to my watch in the homestretch to see if I could push it to break 3:20 and at least finish in the "teens" because I knew I was close to that. Small victory, right? 
Official time 3:20:00 flat! That is right, one measly second off from the teens! Figures. 

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Maher at the finish line the Sunday before the race, just steps from where the bombs would go off the next day

Post race: After I crossed the finish line I was herded through the corral to get water, a mylar blanket, Gatorade recovery drink, a bag of snacks, banana, and medal. This all takes about 10-15 minutes believe it or not, it is not a quick process. The time of day was about 1:25 p.m. when I crossed the finish line. (The bombs went off at 2:50) After getting through the corral system and out onto the streets, I could make my way back to the Westin where Jumpstart and the other coalition charities had rented a ballroom for us to celebrate. They had my bag of clothes waiting for me and an available guest room to shower in. I did that came back to the ballroom and hung out for a few minutes as other finishers started trickling in to standing ovations. 

It was around this time that the bombs went off although in the center of the Westin it could not be heard. I decided after checking in with [wife] Tracy back in KC and telling her about my race to take my bags back to the Marriott where my guest room was and see if my roommate and friend from KC was back yet. 

On the walk through the Copley Mall (all indoors) I congratulated a couple wearing their medals and walking the same direction. I asked where they were staying and they said "the Hyatt- if it had not blown up yet"....What?!? They told me an explosion happened a few minutes before at the finish line and it was bad. The first explanation was maybe an an electrical explosion but no one knew. 

I had given two other friends who had to check out earlier in the day a key to my room so they could shower before heading to the airport and they were in my room packing and getting ready to head off to the airport. When I got to the room I asked if they had heard anything about it and they had not. We ran to window and saw very clearly all of the emergency vehicles and police descending on the Finish Line area. I quickly turned on the TV and watched live what was happening at street level. SHOCK. 

Immediately we started checking in with friends via text, because the cell lines were all overwhelmed. Slowly but surely we got responses back that everyone was safe and clear of the explosions, but that took a couple of hours. A few were still out on the course and were re-routed and not allowed to finish - not knowing what had happened. 

All of the frustration and disappointment in my race was immediately erased. I could have cared less about the time, the medal or the accomplishment. There was a little fear of the unknown. What was it? Was it really an equipment malfunction? Was it a bomb? Were more explosions coming? And from where? News of lockdown at the Westin and Copley Mall had us nervous as they were attached to our hotel. Evacuations from the Marriott Courtyard a block away, the Mandarin Hotel, the Lenox Hotel had us wondering if we were next or even safe 29 stories up? 

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You all know the rest of the story through the media coverage after the event. I am thankful that all of the friends and family members that I knew that attended are all safe. My heart breaks for the families and individuals that were hurt and killed in this tragedy. All they were doing was coming together to celebrate a great day in Boston. The news crews quickly arrived in Boston to cover the event, perched on every corner conducting interviews with runners. When we arrived back at the airport in KC there were crews everywhere trying to get stories from us. 

As I write this [three days after the race], I am not really recovering from the 26.2. It's more from what happened after. I was not even in the immediate area, I did not see first hand the destruction and loss of life and limbs and I know how I feel, I cannot imagine the despair they feel. I really feel for those that will be haunted by this for days, weeks, years and for some for their lifetime. 

I will say this, runners are a determined, resilient lot, as are Bostonians. We will be back next year in full force, there is NO doubt about that. The emptiness that I felt when I left Boston is slowly being replaced by an uplifting feeling of the Human Spirit. The stories of random acts of kindness that my friends encountered in Boston by complete strangers as they were evacuated from their hotels without a chance to change or put on warm clothing would bring a tear to anyone's eye. 

The evil done by the lone or the few will be far outweighed by the bravery and valor of the hundreds to thousands of heroes that responded to this tragedy. BOSTON STRONG! 

God Speed. I, for one, will be there in 2014!

(Final picture: Safely at home with his 12-year-old son)