By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
I hesitated writing this column. I tried to come up with other topics, other events, but my mind always came back to Boston and Monday’s tragic events at the finish line at one of the greatest road races in America. Unbeknownst to the rest of the newsroom, I had been following the race since 9 a.m., when the elite runners — those hoping to win — took their first mile. Runner’s World, a publication devoted to running, had a live blog feed on their webpage. I was also following the race through Twitter. The rest of my coworkers were half-heartedly listening to CNN, while sorting out their email. Around mid-morning, the winners had already crossed the finish line. But a fresh tweet by Runner’s World got my attention. The press room in Boston was on lock down after hearing loud explosions. I glanced at CNN and other news outlets, looking for more details. Nothing. My coworkers were drinking coffee, typing their columns, working on local news stories and listening to the scanner — a typical Monday. A few minutes later, we all stood in front of the TV; the loud explosion was an act of terror. A hard reminder that nothing is typical.
The newsroom sprung into action; the day’s front page news had changed in a matter of moments. I had mixed emotions. I am a journalist, but I am also a runner. I have never ran a marathon, or been to Boston. Yet, I had participated in various half marathons across the country. I know what it is like to run down the streets, crowded by 10,000 runners, exposed to spectators lining the streets. I never questioned my safety. I am sure nobody in Boston thought about terror. What is going through a runner’s mind during a race? We are often thinking about the next water station. Or what we are going to eat for our victory meal. We repeat small sentences of motivation, anything to get us to the next mile marker and eventually the finish line. No one ever imagines tragedy at the end.
But I don’t want to separate the runner from the American. Sure, it is fun to be a runner and travel to big races with friends. It is nice to cross finish lines, receive a medal and a high-five from a stranger with the same dazed look as you. All of these running moments are great; they are preserved in my scrapbook, waiting to show my future children that anything is possible with hard work. You know what is even greater? Being an American with the freedom to run, dance, skip or walk through the best cities in the country. I am not worried about the negative impact this will have on runners. They will lace up their shoes again; distance runners will qualify and sign up for the Boston Marathon. I am more worried about my country. Monday’s events could have easily happened at a football game, a soccer match, a concert, a polling place on Election day, a church — any event that showcases America’s human spirit. My heart hurts for my fellow citizens, regardless if they run 26.2 miles or .6 of a mile. The very things we love — freedom to participate in life’s joys — put all of us in danger. I won’t sign up for Boston. I will never have the qualifying time to participate. I don’t know if I will ever even attempt a marathon in a neighboring state. I am OK with that. So how does a runner from West Virginia help? By being an American who believes in country, prayer and the human spirit.
A local runner, who was at the Boston Marathon, said he plans to attend more large races despite the attack. He said, “We have to live life.” He is exactly right. On Tuesday morning, I ran. The dark streets looked intimating that morning. So I opted for the treadmill. Images from Boston flooded the TV screens in the gym. I ran three miles, 23.2 miles shy of a marathon. I felt grateful. I went home and went to work, where I exercised free speech at its finest. I lived the day as a runner, a journalist and an American citizen. I am a runner by choice. But I was born an American and that will never change regardless if I run, walk or dance through life.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @BDTParsell.