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What Boston Means to Me

What Boston Means to Me

Ani Freedman

On Monday, April 17th, nearly 30,000 people crossed the starting line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, for the running of the 127th Boston Marathon. It was also the 10th anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing which killed five people, including eight-year-old Martin Richard, and injured hundreds. This year, Martin’s older brother, Henry, his father, Bill, and three of his former classmates ran the race in memory of him. But the solemn backdrop of this year’s race couldn’t dampen the energy of one of the most prestigious races in the world, as people gathered in solidarity to remember victims and celebrate life.

Marathon Monday is a statewide holiday in Massachusetts, with locals, loved ones, and random spectators uniting to support tens of thousands of runners tackling an infamously challenging course—in this year’s humidity and relentless rain, no less.

I was one of those spectators in awe. I wished to be standing along the course and witnessing the greatness of the world’s best athletes, and the resilience of everyday runners like myself. I was in New York, but I could feel the energy from my computer screen. At 9:02 a.m., the race began with the men’s wheelchair division. Three minutes later, the women. For the next couple hours, racers would toe the line and let their feet pound the earth of Boston’s rolling hills. After stealing my brother’s YouTubeTV login, my eyes were glued to my computer to watch the race unfold while I tracked runners’ progress online, as well. I couldn’t miss this race—not with world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge racing alongside Evans Chebet, last year's winner at both Boston and NYC. Most of all, I couldn’t miss some of the American runners who I look up to the most: Emma Bates, Des Linden, and Sara Hall.

The professionals always look smooth and steady. Their eyes never waver from the course straight ahead. You can tell they’re focused, tuned into their bodies and pace. I was caught in a Zoom call as the pack of professional men neared the finish line on Boylston Street. No disrespect to the person on the other end of the call, but I have to admit that I was flipping between Zoom and YouTube to see the incredible, and heartbreaking for some, finish for the men’s field. Evans Chebet conquered, and Eliud Kipchoge fell back to sixth—a rarity, but he kept his trademark smile nonetheless. It was difficult to hide my facial expressions on Zoom as I watched this all unfold.

But as a young woman, I have to admit I was more drawn to the powerful female forces dominating the streets of Boston that day. Unbelievably talented women from around the world showed me the beauty, grace, and strength of women, some of whom are mothers as well. In the lead pack among women from Kenya, Israel, and Ethiopia, was one of my idols, Emma Bates. To see an American leading in the Boston Marathon is uncommon, but she looked strong, calm, and like she belonged there. I was ecstatic. I carried my computer with me to the kitchen, gripping a wooden spoon tightly as I cooked lunch and shouted to myself as Bates remained steady alongside the other runners.

An American woman hasn’t won the Boston Marathon since 2018, when Des Linden was adorned with the coveted laurel wreath as she crossed the finish line first. I knew it was a long shot, but I had hope for Bates. As they neared Boylston Street, Hellen Obiri from Kenya widened her lead. She opened her stride, took the right hand turn towards the finish line, and sprinted straight into the arms of her husband and seven-year-old daughter. While Bates didn’t win, I felt tears welling in my eyes at the sight of Obiri who—in only her second marathon ever—conquered a painful course and made her loved ones as proud as they could be. The other women soon followed, Bates coming in a very impressive fifth place. I was so happy for her and proud of her, even though I don’t know her at all.

I was buzzing for the rest of the day. Weeks later, I still am. I’m overcome with pride, joy, and inspiration at the sight of what not only professional runners are capable of, but what everyday runners who simply do it out of love (and a dash of crazy stubbornness) can accomplish. We can weather the worst conditions mentally and physically, and conquer things completely out of our control, all to cross that finish line. We do it for ourselves and for our loved ones, to share something with others and to push our limits. And we do it to inspire others as well, to keep them going to show how capable we all are of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, as runners and as humans.

That’s the nature of these races and of running in general: it brings people together. This sport has the power to unite people, in times of joy and in times of grief. In the wake of the 2013 tragedy, loved ones and strangers stood and ran and cheered together to show the world that they are strong. They showed us that nothing can take away the beautiful harmony and support of the Boston Marathon, nor of the running community.

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