It’s now been a week since the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon and although a suspect has been charged it is still going to take a much longer time for all the people touched by this tragedy, including me, to process all that has happened and the feelings associated with them.
When I heard what had happened on Monday I took the events very personally. Not only where there friends of friends there, and thankfully all of them safe. I felt that this tribe of people known as “endurance athletes”and our culture, and what it stands for, in a literal sense, was attacked and that it might be taken away.
My life nearly ended August, 27, 2008. That’s the day that I set out from my house for mellow late afternoon run. I had just come back from Chicago and competing in the Chicago Triathlon in front of my family for the first time. I felt that I did pretty well for being my first year trying this whole endurance sports thing. After multiple knee surgeries from my soccer playing days I found triathlon as an outlet for my very competitive side and my desire to remain active. The “HTFU” aspect appealed to me as well. Growing up, I played every sport I could, but I was always the smallest one on any field. My dad helped me make up for it, by installing a healthy: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog” approach that helped me suceed. I knew that by working just a little bit harder, and never giving up I could be successful.
During rehab for three consecutive ACL reconstructions I was told I could ride a stationary bike and I could swim. So that’s what I did. When my knee was healthy enough I started running. My dad, with his infinite advice, said, “Why don’t you start doing triathlon’s?” Sure. Why not? It’s active, its competitive and most of all it’s a battle not only with your competitors and the course itself, but with your mind. To convince yourself to never give up, to make it a mind over matter battle got me hooked. However, without the doubt the reason I stayed with it, decided to work in the industry, to make it my lifestyle was because of the tribe.
Endurance athletes are a tribe, plain and simple. However, the best thing about this tribe is everyone is invited. There are no limitations. Endurance athletes except everyone…seriously, they do. Doesn’t matter what you look like, how old you are, how much money you have, if you like girls or boys, if you worship god, allah, or your neighbors cat. Fine, most “normal” people think we are bat-shit crazy anyway for hitting the road at 5:30am to go ride our bikes 80 miles, so who cares!? It’s the bond that comes with knowing endurance sports cannot be faked. You cannot bluff your way through a triathlon. You can’t fake a marathon. You can’t relax your way through a century. It’s completed through hard work and effort, and in a belief that I am not going to give up. Most of the time the only difference between what “normal” people think is crazy and what members of the tribe do is the effort they put into it. The other amazing aspect about the tribe, is the instant, inescapable bound that binds people together.
What other sport can you think of that you see other competitors actively encouraging, supporting, cheering, helping their fellow competitors? Go to a marathon and watch competitors high five each other. Go to a triathlon and see as soon as everyone from top pros to regular joes cross the finish line, they turn around and cheer on others that haven’t finished yet. Do you have an extra tube? One of the things I hear most in the parking lot of local bike races. This bond that we are all in this together. I experienced this first hand in the days, weeks and months following August 27th, 2008.
In some ways I wish I knew more what happened, in many ways I am happy that I don’t. All I can say for sure is that I left the house to get a little bit of that “runner’s high.” That feeling that no matter how crappy your day was, you can hit the road and lose yourself in your run and come back to reality feeling better. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened to me. I was hit from behind by a car traveling somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-35 mph. Only thing I know is that I left the house for a run, woke up with someone telling me I was in the hospital. I didn’t know my own name or where I lived, let alone how I got there. When I was finally able to tell the nurse that I worked at a bike shop they were able to get in touch with the owner of the shop, who’s family I was living with, and have him come to the hospital and contact my parents. The short list was a fractured vertebrae, a severe concussion and a lot of road rash. No broken bones and I was alive. I’m convinced that I am part X-man, but that’s a post for another day.
The outpouring of love, support and generosity that was shown to me by my friends, triathlon club, other competitors, total strangers during the time following my lengthy road to recovery made me realize that the tribe is made up of some of the best people in the world. That has only been solidified by my experiences since that day in 2008 and put on display to the world with the bombings at Boston on Monday.
The acts of selflessness, the willingness to help others. The stories of people finishing then immediately running to the hospital a few extra miles to donate blood. This is the stuff that I have know for years. It’s also the part that is hardest to understand. Why would anyone want to hurt the people that are some of the very best around? It’s a question that probably wont have an answer, but I do know that the people effected, will have a network of worldwide support. Sometimes it just as simple as lacing up your shoes and going for a run. That’s what I had to do. I just recently got back to running over the summer after finally conquering my back injuries. It’s amazing what a pretty girl telling me she runs can get me to do! You run…Wow! Me too! Although, the relationship didn’t work out, I am grateful for it, because I got the “runner’s high” back. That feeling of escape, of freedom.
By the time I got back there was already an invite to join the Facebook group “Run 26.2 for Boston.” It’s a group dedicated to posting images and stories of running for those that can’t and in support of the people of Boston. It might sound hokey or contrived, but to members of the tribe it makes sense. I felt this senseless act of violence very personally. It felt like a part of a world that has meant so much to me had been taken. What a realize now, is that the world is now going to see in the next days, weeks, months, years how strong the tribe is and I am happy to call myself a member.