On Easter Sunday, my friend Shelly and I made our way to the Old South Church to attend the Blessing for the Athletes. A yearly tradition, the blessing is often a highlight of Boston Marathon weekend, but many of us were seeking more than physical strength and the church was packed.
Fitting that Easter, a holiday that celebrates rebirth and renewal, was the day before the 2014 Boston Marathon. I was seeking a fresh start. I was seeking renewal. As runners received their blessing, we were also gifted with scarves hand-knitted by thousands of individuals around the country. We were not allowed to wrap the scarf around our own neck. Someone else had to do it for us. I walked out of the church uplifted by these simple, sweet acts of kindness feeling a little more Boston Strong.
This past year has been a marathon in its own way. Like the early miles of the race, the days immediately following the bombings went by in a blur. If I thought too much about the miles ahead of me Monday, I got overwhelmed. So I focused on the mile I was in. After the bombings, I immersed myself in the daily hustle and bustle of life, only allowing myself small moments to grieve. Too much reflection and I feared I would never escape the sadness.
Somewhere around mile 10, I started to feel the work in my muscles. The early adrenaline was long gone and it was all work. With many more miles ahead I started to settle into a consistent pace. Mile 10 took us through Natick on our way to Boston. It's also where I started looking to the crowds for encouragement. A few months after the attacks I started opening up to my friends and family a little more. I started sharing the burden of emotions I had been carrying with me, but not too much. Knowing that I was going back to Boston for 2014, I didn't want to exhaust myself and others with those emotions.
At mile 13, I was halfway there. Finishing seemed possible. After the cheers at Wellsley, I started to feel a little stronger. Any doubt I had before about finishing strong started to fade. After registering for this year's marathon, I also felt that healing might be possible. I would get to return to the only place I would find healing.
Miles 16 to 21 of the Boston Marathon are famous for their hills. Difficult not just for their terrain but also their timing, this is where some runners falter. But it's also when the crowd support starts to play an intrigal part in our success. It's a symbiotic relationship. So many signs thanking the runners for giving Bostonians back their day, I really felt we should have been carrying those signs for them. As I ran past one woman, she yelled, "Remember who you are running for." Any discomfort I felt fell into perspective. As I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill, I saw the familiar "The Heartbreak Is Over" sign. While the real heartbreak is far from over, I felt incredible hope.
The Citgo sign is a welcome sight to tired marathoners, for as we pass it, we know we have just one more mile to go. No matter how intense the pain, we know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or at least around the corner of Hereford coming onto Boylston. The crowds were intense. It felt as though they were as invested in my success as I was. I felt lifted as I picked up my pace and let them carry me home. Shelly was there at mile 25.5, adding her voice to the throngs of cheers. As I made the final turn onto Boylston, tears of joy and relief streamed down my face. Not a good look for pictures, but cathartic.
For 12 months I looked forward to this moment when I could reclaim my race, reclaim my moment, reclaim my joy that was stolen. But at that moment, running past those sacred spots where so many who had cheered me in to the finish in 2013 were injured and killed, it became clear that the healing I sought wasn't mine. It was ours. The reason peace had alluded me for so long was because I had selfishly sought it alone. I realize now that this race wasn't about me. It was about us. The runners, the spectators, the volunteers, the victims, the survivors, the families, the Bostonians.
The marathon is not a solo journey. It is a community coming together to undertake the seemingly impossible and make it possible.
Thank you Boston for helping us find peace. Thank you for lifting us up and pushing us forward. Thank you for getting us up and over the hills and onto the finish line. Thank you for putting your arms around us and making us all feel as one.
Thank you for making us all Boston Strong.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and Boston Strong marathoner.