After Boston Marathon Explosions, We Will Keep Running

The first time I ran a mile, I was 10 years old. My father had undergone a hemipelvectomy the previous year from cancer. It was his leg or his life. He chose his life.

There’s something about being a child and watching your father fight to live... watching him make the choice to live with less. Knowing he would never walk his daughter down the aisle but that maybe if the surgery went well, he would be there to watch her.

As a child, watching my father fight cancer and, more so, watching him learn how to live and be successful in all areas of his life — from learning how to walk again, to putting up Christmas lights to becoming the president of his own company — left a resounding impression on me: never give up.

The experience also made me really aware of my own body. It made me aware of the potential of my body. Ever since my father lost his leg to cancer, I knew that I wanted to do the things with my body that my father wasn’t able to do anymore. In my own 10-year-old way of coping, I wanted to live for my father the things he didn’t get to do.

This understanding of not giving up and the desire to realize the potential of my body became intrinsically intertwined in my experience of running the mile for the first time in psychical education class.

I remember my lungs burning, and my legs heavy underneath me; I remember wanting to give up but fighting on. My physical education teacher clicked on the stopwatch as I crossed the finish line.

“You just ran an 8 minute mile. You might be able to go somewhere in life with a time like that.”

Ironically, running actually did take me a lot of places in life. But more so, my first mile set the foundation for how I understood my life. Living and running — the two have been inextricably tied to me for the past 15 years.

The first place running took me was to a safe social space. Junior high and high school aren’t the nicest crowds. As a scrawny nerdy half Asian kid, my chances of social acceptance hadn’t favoured well in the past. But running made me kind of cool, or perhaps more poignantly, it gave me confidence. I learned to carry the same confidence I felt on the track into the classroom and to the lunch table. I learned that if I had confidence, I could get just the same amount of success in other areas of my life as I did on the track. Eventually, I gathered enough confidence to ask permission from our school board to start our high schools participation in the national day of silence, a political movement that would benefit my friends who were LGBT and whose voices were constantly silenced.

As I became a better runner, I traveled more. Around the state of Illinois, the Midwest, then the southern Appalachians, all for various camps and competitions. Along the way, I ran through all the awakenings I was supposed to run through as a high school girl — the first loves and the first heartbreaks, the finished forever — friendships and heavily laden parental conflict. With great relief, I can tell you I crossed over the finish line into some cliched coming of age understandings that made me a better person.

College running taught me a lot … about running. It taught me that if someone tells me to run at an opportunity to get to where I want to be, I’ll try to sprint through a wall to get there. Knee surgeries, broken bones, the whole nine yards, included. My career- or at least, any chance of being a half-way decent runner — was done by twenty years of age. Through college running, I learned that sometimes, the way to win was to back down. To walk away. To develop patience. To re-understand yourself as a runner, and as a person. To take on different roles on your team. Instead of leading the pack, lead through example. Lead through the choices you can make. In fact, don’t lead. Encourage others.

Mostly, running taught me not to give up on myself I may have been done as a 1500m runner. But I wasn’t done as a runner.

Four years later, I finished the Nike British 10k. I took 44th for the women…out of roughly 10,000 females.

I learned the greatest lessons of my life through running. I learned, very slowly and at times painfully, not to give up on other people in my life either. I learned that all problems, no matter how horrific they seem, have something to offer you. They have lessons you can learn from.

If you asked any runner what lessons they’ve learned from their sport, you’d hear different variations. But in the end, you would hear the same themes. Ultimately, you would hear they didn’t give up. Ultimately, you would hear that running taught them most of what they know.

Yesterday on the eastern coast, there were 26,000 runners from around the world with 26,000 different stories of how running took them to be where they are in their lives right now. You would hear the stories of what led them to the Boston marathon this year. There would be 26,000 different stories of runners who were children ten, fifteen, thirty something odd years ago, who fell in love with the sport. You would hear of runners who picked it up at fifty years of age. You would hear of mothers overcoming cancer to run this race. Of sons running after coming home from war. You would meet other runners, just like me, waiting for their bodies to heal, waiting for their Boston to happen. You would meet non-runners. People who have no intention of ever putting on running shoes. Just people who admired the sport.

There should have been 26,000 participants that crossed the finish today. 26,000 new stories of triumph and overcoming all, and hundreds of thousands of stories of the adversity and greatness that come along with our sport.

Instead, 26,000 stories … no, all our stories, really … were silenced with blast of an explosion.

Three stories, we know, ended forever.

140 other stories are now forever changed, living on less.

No one knows who did it, or why they did it or what their cause was and to be frank: I don’t give a flying flip.

You, whoever you are, tried to destroy something that was an amazing force in so many people’s lives. You tried to destroy the stories of thousands of runners, of thousands of their family members and closet friends. You probably didn’t have a connection to the sport. You probably have never put on a pair of running shoes in your life. Running, how it brings people together, families together, communities together, a nation together. That meant nothing to you.

We’re pissed. We’re angry. We’re beyond upset at the horror you would cause so many people by enacting violence to create a power void in your own menial mind because you didn’t bother to work through your stories and chose to interfere as we ran through ours.

The lessons running teaches us are too powerful. The places running takes us are too great. And the things that we draw from life through the power of our stride, is more powerful than any explosion meant to stop us as runners, or our families, from continuing on as people.

It may take us months to process this. We may grapple to understand what this means. We may initially back down out of a few races. But no distance runner ever gives up on herself. And no distance runner ever gives up on this sport.

We find ways to cross the finish line.

And we will find a way to learn something more powerful from what has happened today than your explosion.

My heart breaks for family, friends and runners of the 2013 Boston Marathon. I cannot express how angry I am that so many stories have been affected by this incident. But I know that if any community can find the strength to create something greater from this horrible event, it’s the long distance community and the wonderful an amazing families, friends, fans, and appreciators that support the sport.

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Shanthi Marie Blanchard

Shanthi Marie Blanchard is a recent graduate of the London School of Economics, where she studied gender, policy, and inequalities. Before this, she graduated with a degree in psychology from Southern Illinois University (’11) and bachelors from Santa Clara University in political science (’09). Shanthi has been an avid runner for fifteen years, running for both her undergraduate universities. You can find her on LinkedIn, or on twitter @smblanchard

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