Boston race: Support after attacks at race overwhelming
BOSTON — In the foyer of the Boston Athletic Association headquarters is the Champions’ Trophy that documents the winners of the world’s most prestigious marathon. It shines from its perch above display cabinets stuffed with shoes, bibs and other artifacts of the organization’s 125-year history, the finial atop the silver cup slightly askew.
At some point in the commotion following the explosions at the race’s finish line last month, the base of the trophy was bent. B.A.A. officials seem less interested in how it happened than in getting it ready for next year, when they fully intend to update it with the champions of the 118th Boston Marathon.
“We’re going to do this again,” race director Dave McGillivray said Wednesday, when B.A.A. officials sat down for their first interviews since bombs killed three people and wounded hundreds more at the marathon’s finish line. “This is not just about Boston anymore.”
In a conference room in their Back Bay offices, McGillivray and B.A.A. executive director Tom Grilk discussed the tragedy that interrupted the April 15 race and the response that allowed them to be hopeful for next year’s.
They would not comment on security — deferring to law enforcement and elected officials — or potential plans to expand the 2014 race to accommodate the thousands who have said they want to run Boston to support the city and the event. But both men said they were heartened by the way the community — runners and non-runners alike — has rallied around the race.
“The outpouring of support is overwhelming, to the point where we’re challenged now with how to handle all of it, how to respond to it, how to direct these people who are looking to help,” McGillivray said. “The entire running industry feels victimized. They need to do something, too. They need to heal, and that’s what we’re seeing.”
And it’s not just runners.
Other Boston sports teams have been cheered by rival fans on the road and welcomed home with emotional ceremonies. Races around the United States and the world have included their own tributes to Boston. The One Fund, a charity established to help the bombing victims, has raised more than $25 million, and Grilk said the B.A.A. would donate $250,000.
“There is so much to be grateful for,” he said, singling out the police and emergency-responders, the doctors and the race volunteers who tore through the barricades to get to the wounded.
“This was an attack on Boston, on all of us. The overwhelming reaction from everybody around Boston and beyond is that we will not give in to this sort of thing. We are strong, and we will come back. It is so sad that deaths occurred and horrible injuries occurred, but at least we saw some good come out of it.”
At a time when the B.A.A. is usually winding down, it has, instead, just finished returning personal belongings to runners who were unable to retrieve them at the usual post-race pickup location. Those who gathered them up at the B.A.A. offices last week were given a chance to cross a replica of the painted finish line on Boylston Street, which is about a quarter-mile away.
Finisher’s medals were still being mailed out to those who wanted them, no matter if or when they crossed the finish line. McGillivray said the organization hasn’t had its usual post-race debriefing, when it discusses ways to tweak the next one.
“After all, we still put on a pretty good race — up until a certain time. And then the focus shifted,” he said. “We need to analyze that, because we’re going to do this again. A lot of our focus has been and continues to be, our runners.”
No B.A.A. workers were physically injured in the explosions, and the aftermath has kept them busy — perhaps too busy to think about what has happened. The organization has encouraged its staff and volunteers to seek counseling; two group sessions have already taken place — at the B.A.A. offices in the Back Bay and in Hopkinton.
Grilk declined to elaborate on the nature or mood of those sessions.
“We still struggle to understand how all of this could have happened,” he said. “(There is) a sense of horror and tragedy. That it occurred adjacent to the marathon course makes it feel, in some ways, a little more personal to us just because so many of our people — workers, runners, volunteers — were close to it. But we weren’t attacked any more than anyone else in the city of Boston.”
Much remains to be done, including:
—New security procedures for next year’s race. “There will be a great deal of work done on that, and it will be led by government officials, the law enforcement community,” Grilk said.
—Establish official times for the runners who were stopped on the course when the finish line became a crime scene. McGillivray said there is no timetable but the goal was “sooner, rather than later.”
“We’re aware of all that — the interest in closure, completion,” he said. “That’s probably the next step.”
—How to accommodate the thousands who have said they want to participate next year to support the victims, the race or the city. “We haven’t ruled anything out, but we haven’t come close to making any determination as to what that might eventually be,” McGillivray said.
The Boston Marathon course winds its way through eight cities and towns, 26.2 miles that lead from the suburban, residential neighborhoods in Hopkinton to the business district of Boston’s Back Bay. Guarding the entire course is not just impossible but undesirable, because the cheering fans are as much a part of Patriots’ Day as the olive wreaths that crown the winners’ heads.
Grilk said he isn’t concerned that the need for increased vigilance will turn what had been a festive atmosphere into a secure but sterile police state.
“We have worked in close collaboration with law enforcement for a very, very long time,” he said. “And they have every bit as much an understanding of the core and fabric of this event as anyone else. We are very confident in the decisions they make.”
Expanding the field has similar problems. Space limits at the start in small-town Hopkinton led organizers to cap the field at 27,000, though nearly 40,000 were admitted for the centennial edition in 1996.
Boston has long embraced its marathon, with thousands of volunteers handing out water along the course or tending to the injured in the finish line medical tent. Last year, as temperatures climbed into the upper-80s — dangerously high for a distance race — people who lived along the course bought ice and water to give runners.
Grilk saw that same spirit in the rush to aid the injured.
“Everybody — everybody — around this race feels like it’s theirs,” Grilk said. “They own it.”
“And they’re right,” McGillivray said.
“They are not going to let bad things happen,” Grilk said. “It’s breathtaking.”
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