Runners are gathering again for the Boston Marathon Monday, and it's no exaggeration to say that this year's running of the nation's oldest and most prestigious marathon will be like no other before it, due to the tragedy that will be on the minds of runners and spectators alike, and which occurred just one year ago.
The city of Boston marked the one year anniversary of the bombings that killed three people and injured hundreds, striking a balance of somber commemoration for the victims and resilience of the people who refuse to let the terror of that day keep them from running and cheering again.
One of those determined to return to the Boston Marathon is Ryan Polly of Williston, who spoke with VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb before leaving for Boston over the weekend.
A year ago, Polly was nearing the finishing line, having just passed the one mile marker, when the race was stopped.
“I heard a couple of sounds that at the time I thought was either a car backfiring or fireworks. There are so many people there that you don’t really know what’s going on,” Polly said. “I remember hearing the sounds and looking off to my right and thinking, what was that?”
Polly said the runners kept going and then the first sign of trouble was a siren behind them. The runners moved to the side to let ambulances through. Polly assumed a runner near the finish line had suffered a medical emergency.
“We just kept running and the next thing you know, there are more sirens and more sirens and at that point, it was like, something big has happened. Nobody really told us to stop, and actually some runners kept running until eventually, it was like when you’re driving on the interstate and there’s a sudden stop,” Polly said. There was nowhere to go into the mass of people.
He immediately became concerned about his family. He found a woman who let him borrow her phone and was able to make contact with his partner and leave Boston.
After returning home to Williston, Polly decided he didn’t want to go ahead with his planned post-race party the following Saturday.
“I woke up the very next morning, and I said, ‘I’m going to run.’ It really started with more, I’m going to go run a 5K to putting a Facebook invite out, to then talking with media and it grew. A couple of local organizations supported it so we could make it be what it was,” Polly said.
Hundreds of people participated in the 5K, called Get Moving for Boston. The event raised over $100,000 for the Massachusetts General Hospital Emergency Fund.
Polly said that event and an online group of other runners who weren’t able to finish the marathon have put him in touch with the greater running community, and he’s made many good friends in the process.
“There were 5,700 of us who didn’t finish the race. We’ve come together. There are hundreds of us on a Facebook page, and a good 30 of them that I’ve grown close with and we talk almost daily. And we’ve been sharing our journey.”
The group plans to get together for a photo on Monday. And Polly says he’s made connections with local runners as well.
While his family isn’t going to make the trip to Boston for this marathon, Polly said going and finishing the race is important this year.
“First and foremost, to be able to show the world, that we’re not afraid. That this kind of thing isn’t going to stop us from celebrating and doing what they’re passionate about and being fit and healthy,” Polly said.
“I didn’t get to finish that race, and I’ve worked even harder this year to get to finish.”
There’s also a personal significance to finishing his first marathon. Polly has a rare blood condition.
“In fact a lot of people who have this condition are like, ‘how are you running?’ because a lot of people don’t even exercise and it can really be a pretty disabling condition. So for me it was my crowning moment to say that that condition wasn’t going to stop me,” Polly said. “So now it’s even more important that I cross that finish line.”