Since last year's bombings, Boston is a city changed, but not tarnished. R. Brock Olson recently wrote a piece for Salon about how Bostonians are living under the false security implied by a hashtag slogan. #BostonStrong is a mere euphemism, he argues, for while we may have overcome the violence of the terror attacks, we have not yet overcome violence toward each other. He makes a valid point, if you look at the crime statistics over the past year. But, if Olson was standing here today, I think he would change his mind. #BostonStrong is an idea under which we all choose to live, under which we stand united. Ahead, seven stories of people who triumphed over terrorism and showed real resilience in the face of tragedy.
“I was spectating and went to support my friend Evy Gonzales and my teammates from North Brooklyn Runners. Like all the other Boston Marathons I have experienced, the day was awesome and inspiring. I bandited a few miles with Evy and then jumped out of the race and joined Evy's mother and her aunts who were there to cheer her on. As we worked our way toward the finish line to congratulate her, we fortuitously took a wrong turn, which delayed our progress and forced us to cross the street.
“We were about four blocks from the finish when I heard the first explosion. I immediately knew it was bad based on the force and the odd timing — nothing about it made sense, and my body vibrated slightly. When the second bomb went off a few seconds later, my photojournalistic instincts had already kicked in, and my cell phone was ready to document what might come next. That is when I snapped the photo. Perhaps because I was also a witness to the two World Trade Center bombings, I wasn't shocked at this time, but rather went into pragmatic survival mode.
“After I took the photo, I endeavored to get Evy's family the heck out of the crowds, so we turned around and worked our way in the direction of an open space. The energy of people freaking spread exponentially through the crowd, and soon, reports of the tragedy spread by word of mouth.
“I was concerned for Evy's family, because they couldn't help but think the worst had happened until they received confirmation from her that she was okay. Somehow our cell phone batteries lasted long enough for her to eventually tell me she was alive and well.
“I am still profoundly disturbed that innocent people were killed and maimed at an event overflowing with support and positivity. This has been the hardest thing for me to manage — the contrast of innocent people and terror.
“As for how I perceive the Marathon, nothing has changed except that I am even more appreciative that the Boston Marathon exists and more conscious of the preciousness of every day on this planet. The fear of another terrorist attack doesn't enter my mind. I am aware it could happen, but I am not afraid. I am looking forward to running Boston in 2015.
“I have always had a sense that Boston was a supportive community, and, in light of the events, I feel even more strongly about that. I was astounded by the effectiveness of the first responders and the subsequent efforts by law enforcement. These people clearly stepped up when it counted.
“#BostonStrong means something different to everyone. For me, it represents an idea that people will continue to live out their passions and not be swayed by cowardly acts like the bombings.”
“My friend Anna and I arrived in our viewing spot in time for the wheelchairs to cross the finish line. At first we were standing right at the finish line, but very quickly (before the wheelchairs arrived) moved down Boylston Street half a block in front of the medic area. We decided to move because we could see the runners being interviewed and had more time to see the runners’ faces.
“We had been there a long time, and at about 2:30 p.m., we decided to go home to grab lunch, check our emails, and warm up. We planned to regroup and meet back at 'our spot.' I live on Newbury Street between Dartmouth and Exeter. My expansive windows — including the kitchen — face onto Newbury Street looking toward Boylston. As I was making lunch, I heard and felt the first explosion. My building is situated in the same spot on Newbury where the bomb went off on Boylston, so when I looked at the window I saw smoke and debris in the air right in front of me. And, very quickly the second explosion came. I immediately had a sinking feeling, thinking along the lines of a gas-pipe explosion.
"While still looking out the window, I first saw waitstaff from a restaurant who were working outdoor-dining section start running around the corner toward the explosion. There was suddenly a lot of sirens, and many of the waitstaff were coming back to the restaurant covered in blood, some were without their aprons on, and some were grabbing tablecloths off of the outdoor tables and running back toward the scene. Many were sobbing as they came back. Very quickly hoards of people starting running down Exeter Street and Newbury Street, a sea of people in the streets.
“I became very concerned about my safety and unsure of what to do. I thought about getting under my kitchen island, but didn't. I made two quick cellphone calls to let my family know they were about to hear about something terrible happening, and I was okay. I knew from 9/11 that the phones were likely to stop working. I then called my friend Anna who I was with at the marathon. She lived four blocks away from the explosion. She felt and heard it, too. When we hung up, she came to my apartment, a decision we later regretted. She came toward the danger instead of me going to her apartment away from the danger. There was so much chaos and seas of people as I looked out the window. Just as Anna arrived, police began banging on shop doors and screaming to people in the stores on Newbury to evacuate and run toward the river. We were watching and listening, as I live on the third floor. We became very anxious and yelled out the window to ask an officer if we should evacuate. He answered, 'I can't tell you what to do, but if you stay it is at your own risk.' With that answer, we decided to leave immediately. As soon as we got in the elevator, there was another explosion. Apparently, it was set off by the police.
“We hit the street running/walking very quickly to Anna's apartment. Police were in the streets away from the explosion helping people to cross, and screaming at them to get off their cell phones. At Anna's, we watched the news, communicated with family and friends mostly through email and Facebook. At times, we had cell coverage but mostly not. We found out from the news that police didn't want us using cell phones at first because they were unclear if a phone could detonate another bomb.
“My daughter and husband were both outside of the city during the bombing. They met at a family friend's house in the suburbs. It was hard to ascertain if it was safe to come back to our apartment and if the roads were reopened. At about 9:30 p.m., they decided to try and made it back. They were stopped by the National Guard and asked to show IDs before they could park at our apartment. They walked to Anna's to pick me up and walk me home. I got in the shower and had my first of many sobs to come over the next week or so.
“It was a very surreal feeling for a long time, particularly living right in the middle of the news crews. I would watch Anderson Cooper for hours on end on TV and then walk outside to get fresh air, and he was right there reporting. I went to the makeshift memorial every day, which I found so healing and beautiful.
“I can't wait for Monday. Anna and I will be there, right in 'our spot' cheering louder than ever. I can't help but hear my dad's voice saying, 'Don't let the bastards get you down' — something he said to me after 9/11.
“I feel a huge sense of pride for Boston. It was a shining moment the way the city came together. The money raised for the One Fund has been extraordinary. Boston is strong and proud. There is a very real palpable excitement in the air about the Marathon. For me, #BostonStrong equals kindness, spirit, and resilience.”
Joey: “We had both trained for months for our first marathon, putting in hundreds of miles through the winter. We couldn’t wait to cross the finish line in Copley Square. We both took the buses out to Hopkinton and ran the race as happy as ever. I’m a bit faster than Courtney, so I finished first in 3:52, and the clock said 3:59. I called my Dad to let him know I finished, and he had told me Courtney was 10 minutes behind me. Perfect, [I thought], I will just hang out by the finish line for her. I walked about a block up the street, got a water, and waited by the side for Courtney to finish. That’s when I saw the bombs.
“I saw the first one and thought it must be pyrotechnics — some serious pyrotechnics. Everyone around me just stopped and turned around, confused. Then the second bomb went off. That’s when everything went crazy. Everyone started screaming. I looked at my watch — the bombs went off exactly 10 minutes after I had finished — the same time Courtney was supposed to be finishing. I got my phone out and tried to call her — no answer. I called my Dad and told him I was okay, and asked if he was with Courtney. He said he wasn’t, but was also confused because they were down in Kenmore and did not know what was happening.
"By this time, everyone was running. Ambulances were blaring their sirens straight through where all the finishers were standing. Everyone was running away from the finish line. I still didn’t know what was going on other than this is bad. I overheard people saying there were men shooting the runners as they finished and throwing grenades. I was still trying to call Courtney, but she still wouldn’t answer. I was scared. Not like watching-a-scary-movie scared or top-of-a-roller-coaster scared, but like my-friends-and-family-might-be-dying scared. I started running back to the finish line, because I needed to find Courtney. I was trying to make my way though the crowds of people who had blood on them, who were limping, who were also scared. Then Courtney had finally called me. She was okay. They stopped her with .2 miles to go to the finish line. She got a cramp and had to stop — a cramp that could have saved her life. But, she was okay and safe. I told her not to come to the finish line and meet me back in Kenmore with our family.
“This is when I ran away. I am an emergency department nurse, but I was limping, tired, could barely walk. I would not have been any help. I needed to get to my family. I kind of ran down Boylston toward the Boston Common. I then took a left to get to Commonwealth Avenue, and started heading back to Kenmore. I made my way up to Kenmore and finally found my family. Courtney was already there with a couple of our other friends. Everyone was safe. I was able to eat and drink a little, but then we had another quick scare. There was a backpack in front of the Hotel Commonwealth, and we were all locked in and pushed to the back, while the police cleared the bag. Everything was safe.
“We all started to head back to my apartment in Coolidge Corner. Courtney and I were pushing about 30 miles of running and walking by this point, but we really didn’t even feel the pain — too much adrenaline I guess. Once we made it home, I checked my email to see if I had to go to work. There was a message from our manager telling us to stop calling and not to come in; they were doing fine. I wasn’t surprised. All the emergency departments in Boston staff the Marathon as if it was a mass-casualty day, and we have plans in place and protocols we practice and plan for events like this. The emergency healthcare in Boston can handle pretty much anything in the blink of an eye.
“Our next few days went on just like everyone else’s: Eyes glued to the news, going to work, nursing our own legs. On Friday, I was awoken by a call from Courtney. She told me about the lockdown, how she heard sirens all night, and she didn’t know what was happening. She’d been having a hard time sleeping, and police sirens freaked her out pretty good. I had to go to work though. No matter what type of lockdown there is, hospital staff always needs to go to work. I got on my bike and headed in. I passed through the military guards with machine guns again, just like I had all week, and asked what the deal was. We had a meeting at the hospital, and we were told that Boston was on lockdown, the officials were looking for the other terrorist, and, once they found him, he’d be coming to us. That didn’t happen though. Instead, my shift ended, and I went home. About an hour after my shift ended, the second terrorist came through. I never got to work on either terrorist, and I don’t know if I am happy about that, or if I wish I could have had that experience.
“After that day at work, life started to go back to normal. Courtney was still a bit of a mess and had a hard time sleeping, but we got through it. It was one of the scariest weeks of my life. I’ve never had experiences like those, and I hope we never have them again.
“My training for this year’s marathon isn’t any different. I have my schedule, and I follow it. I do my runs, and that is that. As for the way I perceive the Marathon, I feel like running the Marathon this year is us beating terrorism. The Boston Marathon is amazing. It is perfect, it is American, and that is what the terrorists wanted to stop. They wanted to ruin that for us and hurt us. By running Boston this year, it shows they have not succeeded, and we are still strong, and they have not hurt us. Sure, we have a few bruises from that tough week, but we learned to move on, and we realized we cannot be stopped. We are not afraid of them, and there is no way they will beat us.
“I have seen the strength in the people of Boston. I have seen terrible things happen to good people. At that time, it is sad, but we all smile again. We get up the next morning, put on our shoes, and head out the door for another run.
"I think one thing that has made me the most #BostonStrong is working in the emergency department. The people there are the strongest people I have ever seen and probably ever will see. We see people experience sickness, injury, and death, and we have to deal with it. I tell people that when I go to work it is like going to battle, because we fight as hard as we can to help people. We do anything we can to help people. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but we move on. We do not dwell on the ones we lose; we learn from them; and we look to the next patient and try to save them. If that isn’t strength, I don’t know what is. It is hard to describe what it is like working in an ED. It is tough physically, but it is much tougher mentally. Working with those people is what makes me strong; working in the ED, we handle anything that comes in the door. Nothing scares us, nothing takes us by surprise, and we fight to beat whatever is thrown at us.”
“April 15, 2013. Patriots Day. Marathon Monday. The day of my first marathon. I was never a 'runner,' but ultimately took it up as a hobby and challenged myself to the ‘Greatest of Races’ — the Boston Marathon. I joined the MassGeneral Marathon Team Fighting Kids' Cancer not only to raise money for this truly amazing cause, but to draw inspiration from the children and families I care for there. ‘If those tough kids have to fight cancer, then I will run the Marathon,’ I said to myself. Very few thought I was serious, but I was on the bus that day last year at 6:00 a.m., nervous and excited, anticipating the crowd, seeing my patients at mile 20, and my family as Hereford turns to Boylston. They were amazingly supportive, and my parents insisted on being at the finish line to watch me cross. Race day was perfect. Perfect weather. Perfect, lively energetic crowd. Perfect pace close to my goal as I pounded the hills then through Cleveland Circle where I was greeted by friends.
“Next up, my sister and cousin would join me at mile 23. They jumped in with excitement and encouragement, seeing that I desperately needed a boost, and we ran together. I began to notice the crowd was not as supportive and enthusiastic. People were looking at their phones. My cousin finally told me what had happened and that my sister was trying to get in touch with my parents. There was nothing to do but keep running. We arrived at the Mass Ave as the crowd was backing up, and we went around to the left and stopped on Commonwealth Avenue as my watch hit 26.2 miles. I felt physically exhausted, sore, yet a heightened adrenaline surging through me, wondering about my friends, teammates, and certainly my family. Phones were not working. Roads were closed.
“We walked to my apartment nearby and hoped to reach my family. As I walked, I was not feeling robbed of the chance to cross the finish. I was terrified to learn what really had happened on Boylston Street. People were walking aimlessly through the city, crying and terrified. My family all gathered at my apartment and just stared at the TV. I felt responsible for the fact that they were all there that day for me. They were in harm's way. My parents saw things that cannot be erased from their minds' eye.
"I have not been training this year, but if I were, I imagine I'd be training with many inspirations in my heart: those injured and scarred for life; those emotionally scarred; and those who ran to the danger to help. Powerful motivators, indeed.
“I perceive the Boston Marathon to be a unique experience regardless of last year. Although the 117th running will be remembered for tragic events, it will be remembered more for the heroic ones, and the memories of those lost. The Boston Marathon will always be well attended, enjoyed, and celebrated. I'll be there, at the finish line, because I have faith in the BAA, Boston Police, Boston Fire, and all of the leadership involved in making this event the safest place on Earth.
"Boston is no different. We keep going — always tough, never afraid. We show up when someone is in need. We rally together and support each other.
"#BostonStrong means a community of people who are proud to be from here. Proud to stand up and face tragedy and push harder to persevere. #BostonStrong is having another 117 Boston Marathons yet to come."
“As I departed Hopkington, this time last year, I didn’t have a care in the world. Embarrassingly enough, I was running my second spontaneous and untrained Boston Marathon. I don't say that in a proud or cocky way. Running untrained is unfair to other runners, dangerous to yourself, and does not allow you to truly take credit or be a part of something larger, one of the world’s most famous marathons.
“My mentality was careless with a drop of untouchable. I was running with faster runners than me, and I started earlier than I was supposed to start by sneaking my way into an earlier wave. Long story short, I crossed the finish line and attempted to make an immediate left after the finish line and head to my gym on the corner of Hereford and Boylston. The crowd control gates were zip tied together and forced me all the way down Boylston around Fairfield Street.
"I was still navigating the crowds trying to make my turn when the first bomb went off. I thought the bleachers had collapsed and ran. I looked back to see a cloud of smoke right where I had attempted to make my left turn and exit less than three minutes before. When the second bomb went off, it was like I was leaving a concert and the force of the crowd pushed me toward the river. I had finished the race in 4:04 (not to be confused with the official clock time) and was now running again.
“The one feeling that sticks out the most was the thought 'Two bombs have gone off…where is the third one? Am I running toward it?' I ended up walking over the Mass Ave Bridge — a complete stranger gave me a teal neck gaiter because they said I was shivering. About an hour later, I was able to communicate with my brother and get a ride back to my parents in Newton.
“To this day I wish/wonder why I ran away and not back to help like so many of the other amazing spectators, runners, and emergency-service techs.
“Starting a week or two after the marathon, I began training for real. I applied to the Red Cross of Mass, where my roommate and I were both accepted to run on the team. I trained the entire year, working out with the November Project almost every week, and I raised money for the Red Cross. Although I am suffering from some IT-band problems, I will be running and finishing on Monday.
“I look forward to seeing my family at the 17-mile mark where they live, my November Project friends at water station 18, my friends outside of our gym, and crossing the finish line with my roommate and girlfriend, who I have trained with for countless hours.
“#BostonStrong is coming back to do it again with no fear.”
Illustrated by Sydney Hass