As I listened to the news reports about the Boston Marathon earlier this week, I thought back on all the years when we lived outside of Boston and took the kids to the race. It began in the town next to ours and our friend’s office building was right on the main street, providing a wonderful place to watch the start and store our sweatshirts, water bottles and sunscreen.
Thousands of runners, who’d been there since the pre-dawn hours occupied patches of grass on beach towels spread beneath trees. Their nervous tension mingled in the air with the smell of fried dough and sausages and onions wafting from the food carts lining the town green. The atmosphere left me jittery and awestruck, but the kids sucked it up like juice through a crazy-straw. I had to suppress my desire to approach runners and launch an investigation into why they would possibly put themselves through the rigors of running a marathon. The longest distance I’d ever run was 5 miles, and I swore I’d never do that again.
One year in particular stands out in my memory. The kids were young, maybe around three and five. A runner from the Children’s Hospital Team ran in Andie’s honor. We met Vicky at the start and she had Andie’s name written on her arm in the same black oily crayon football players draw under their eyes. When I asked Vicky why she ran, she said that running brought her great joy and that children facing adversity inspired her.
After we snapped a bunch of photos of Vicky hugging Tucker and Andie, we took the kids over to the official start. They stood on the bright blue painted line and posed for a few quick pictures with their friends Matthew and Jack. Soon runners began lining up between the metal cattle fencing lining the start of the course.
Just as the race was set to begin, the kids ran to the fence and stood on the lower metal bar so they could reach over the top rail and high-five passing runners. As the hoards slowly began moving forward, many runners moved from the left side of the course over to the right just to meet the kid’s hands. I could see Lee working just as hard I was to hold back his tears.
The kid’s bodies hung uncomfortably over the rail by their armpits and as the bib numbers reached into the thousands, Andie’s arms started to look noodley and she soon jumped down from her post. Matthew and Jack lasted a few thousand runners longer, but eventually they’d had enough and jumped down, too.
“If I know Tuck,” said Matthew and Jack’s mom, Karen, “he’s not coming off that fence anytime soon.”
And she was right.
We watched as the bib numbers climbed into the eight thousands, nine thousands. The payment began to heat up, but Tucker’s little body continued to hang over that metal bar. And there he stayed until every single runner, well over twenty thousand had moved past him and through the start of the race.
When he finally turned around and hopped of the fence, I realized I didn’t need to interview any of the runners to gain insight into their marathon mentality. My little boy had shown me that focus, purpose, perseverance and a willingness to see things through to the end seemed to be the necessary requirements.