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Marathoners Still Coping With Boston Attack

By Scott Sutton
@RedLineProject

Posted: Monday, June 10, 2013

As Corey Smith laces up his white Nike running shoes to get ready for a late-evening run along Chicago’s lakefront, it is hard not to notice the conspicuous message written in Sharpie on the inside of his left foot.

It reads simply, “4/15”. The numbers, of course, represent the date on which the terrorist attack occurred at the Boston Marathon.

Nearly six weeks and 1,000 miles separate Chicago from the bombs that rocked the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured 264 more. But the scars are still fresh in the minds of those who witnessed the horror.

Smith, a DePaul University law student, had just finished his first Boston Marathon and was hugging his family in celebration of his achievement when the explosions erupted on Boylston Street.

“I’ll never forget how loud it was,” Smith said. “We all went into nearby buildings because we didn’t know what else to do. Then they just told us to leave and start walking away from the scene. We didn’t know where we were going, we were just told to walk. It was the longest walk of my life.”

For many, the events of that day gave new meaning to a sport that embodies perseverance, courage and dedication.

On the Heels of Tragedy
The sun is hardly up on a cool May morning, but thousands of energetic runners are stretching, doing jumping jacks and scurrying to their gates just outside of Soldier Field as they prepare for the 10th annual Solider Field 10 Mile run.

Though the event is usually in remembrance of the nation’s war veterans, on this day Chicago’s tight-knit running community honors another group of fallen comrades, and counts their blessings that all 361 Chicagoans registered to run in Boston came back unharmed.

The pre-race message billowed through loudspeakers: “Today we stand and run united with the people of Boston to say to the world, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will triumph again on the streets of Boston, and always on the streets of Chicago.' ”

On this day, it is clear this community has suffered.

The healing was on full display. Some cried. Some held signs reading, “Never forget: 9/11 4/15” above the sea of runners during a ceremonial playing of “Taps.”

Dave Zimmer, owner of Fleet Feet Sports and organizer of the Soldier Field run, stood on the starting line stage and took it all in.

A Chicago native, Zimmer has been running marathons since 1996 and has been training and taking runners to the Boston marathon for the last 10 years. This year, he and his group took 80 Chicago-area runners to Boston.

“When we had a moment of silence [at Soldier Field] it was a time to really reflect on what we have endured as an athletic community, but more of what we’ve been through as a nation, “ Zimmer said. “We’re a resilient community, but we’re also one that is not going to forget.”

Zimmer will never forget his day at this year's Boston Marathon. His emotion was evident as he scrolled through photos on his iPhone from the morning of the marathon. Some of the shots featured him and his group members smiling and giving a thumbs-up.

Two more swipes of the thumb show photos of several ambulances, wrecked storefronts and huge police forces outside his hotel room just minutes after the explosions.

Zimmer spent that entire day worrying about his 80 group members, and only after they had all been accounted for could he process the profound effect watching the crown jewel of his livelihood get desecrated by violence had on him.

But it was when he returned to his family in Chicago that Zimmer realized more than his running family had been affected.

“I have a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old and I had to explain to them what terrorism meant,” Zimmer said.

Chicagoan Dan Daly’s concern that day was for his immediate family as well. Daly, 50, a member of Zimmer’s group and runner of 40 marathons (including 19 in Boston), was in the congratulatory stage of the marathon just beyond the finish line when the bombs went off.

As a father the sight of two young children traumatized by the bombs made Daly initially want to run toward the scene. But thoughts about his responsibilities to his children at home and his lack of medical training kept him from running into an unknown and dangerous situation.

For Daly, not being able to help was the hardest part, especially since he had been part of the Marathon for so long.

“Part of what makes Boston special is the fans because they are super knowledgeable and really supportive and are such a great community,” Daly said. “To have that bond, even though you don’t know these people, and for those people to be maimed or killed just for coming out to watch family, friends or strangers there is defiantly that sense of loss and sadness and anger.”

Like Zimmer, Daly makes his living in the sport as the varsity track coach for Latin School of Chicago. For people who must return to the sport daily after being so close to tragedy, returning to normal is not a simple task.

But the run at Soldier Field is a chance for Zimmer and so many others to put the past behind them by doing what they love to do. Put one foot in front of the other and get from point A to point B.

“Running gives you the ability to escape, it gives you the ability to [reflect] and it gives you the ability to heal,” Zimmer said.

Running with a Purpose
Now, when Corey Smith gets ready for his early morning run along Chicago’s lakefront, there is an extra incentive to go just that little bit further. He squints and pushes himself to reach his goal of six miles in 32 minutes thinking about all the people who can’t run anymore because of the Boston tragedy. Every step with his left foot reminds him of that.

After qualifying to run in Boston again, Smith said he has every intention of going back next year.

Daly, who finished four minutes off the qualifying mark at Boston, recently ran the Schaumburg Marathon and qualified for Boston 2014.

“That felt good to know that I was able to qualify and would be able to go back in 2014 and be a part of that healing,” Daly said. “There’s a global community and national community and local running community that want to band together and show the positive aspects of human nature and running is a great way to do that.”

As Zimmer so succinctly put it, “The effects of Boston and terrorism are going to be felt forever.”

The immediate effects were evident on that cool May morning at Soldier Field where bag checks for all participants and anyone entering the stadium were mandatory for the first time ever.

But not only will the events be changed, the sport of running itself has taken on a new meaning, more powerful than ever before, Zimmer and others say.

“One of the things we have seen directly after the Boston tragedy was people who had never run before were running to express their freedom,” Zimmer said.

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