I’m not a runner. But for several reasons, the Boston Marathon holds a special place in my heart.
Back when I lived on Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline, I watched Johnny Kelly go by. In Boston, Johnny Kelly was a legend. Over his lifetime he ran 61 Boston Marathons and won two of them.
By the time I saw him he was an old man. But out of deference, the police held the route open until he went by.
My husband Jack ran 14 marathons after the age of 50, four of them Bostons. He ran his last one at 73.
For a few years we lived in Hopkinton, where the race starts. We’d get up early and walk down to the Common to watch the runners take off. One year while we lived there Jack and my son Brian ran together.
But for me, the marathon isn’t about the crowds. It’s about thousands of personal stories. It’s about all those individual, back-of-the-pack runners who keep on running no matter how tough Heartbreak Hill is or how much everything hurts.
That’s why on Monday the image that seared itself onto my retinas was the older man who was passing near the spot where the first bomb exploded just as it went off.
For hours, the only video you saw was the man reacting to the shock wave, wobbling, and falling, after which the camera jerked upward to follow the smoke. No one mentioned who the man was or what happened to him..
But today at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross we found out. He was 78-year-old Bill Iffrig of Washington. President Obama saluted Iffrig, saying that just as Iffrig had “picked himself up and kept on running” after he was hit, the city of Boston would do the same.
Jack’s running career was ended by Alzheimer’s, which made him furious. Though he wasn’t much of a Bible reader, he did love the verse from Isaiah that reads, “They who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
When he died, we read that passage at his memorial service. He’d have loved it.