The finish line means something to everybody.
That’s what I wrote Monday for The Oklahoman’s main event.
The act of crossing the finish line meant something to every one of the 25,000 runners at
this year’s Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. ¶ It always does, but this year it meant
more. ¶ For some, the line meant the blessed end. For others, the line stood in between
them and a personal best record. For many, thoughts of Boston crossed their mind about
what a finish line stood for two weeks ago: destruction and terror. ¶ That’s not what it
became for Oklahoma City on Sunday for the 13th annual marathon. It became a line in the
sand — between fear and faith. It became a line between the rear view mirror and the road to
recovery. It became a healing line. ¶ But for these following runners, the line meant Boston
was one more group of people to add to the list of why Oklahomans race to remember.
What the finish line meant for me changed throughout the week leading up to my first Oklahoma City marathon.
Early last week, it stood as a sign of fear.
My sister knew something was wrong when I was talking to her about my race preparations. (I was only running the 5K with one of my coworkers and a good friend from The Oklahoman, but my sister and her fiancee have run dozens of marathons, half marathons and such, so I felt comfort in talking with her.) She asked if I was nervous about the race and then reminded me I’d completed a longer race with her – a 10K in Chicago. But we both knew three miles wasn’t what was really bothering me.
I’d spent the last two weeks prior to the OKC marathon speaking with many Oklahomans and other runners who survived the blasts of the Boston Marathon. I’d asked them where they were, what they’d seen and some 20 other questions to divulge more detail because as a reporter my job is to try and get every last detail that matters to a story.
I’d gulped down my queasiness at their detailed description of severed limbs and shards of glass in people’s bodies. I’d listened to them talk about the chaos that ensued, the people running with fear in their eyes, the women screaming, the children crying. I’d cried with them when they told me they’d now survived “two acts of stupidity” and when they struggled through sentences as they recounted the horror they’d witnessed.
Last Monday, I found out my assignment was to cover the OKC Memorial Marathon finish line. I cried on the phone when I told my sister.
I’d talked with so many runners who were going to run in Oklahoma City or other races who said they weren’t afraid, that they couldn’t let fear hold us back. Then I interviewed and wrote a Sunday story on a dentist in Tulsa named Raj Patel. Patel’s son was standing near where the bombs exploded just 20 minutes before the detonation. He told his dad he never wanted him to run a race again. Patel responded that’s not how he was going to deal with fear. All week, I tried to grasp that mentality but something about the finish line scared me until I confessed my fears to my sister and my best friend on Saturday.
They both have crossed many finish lines, all types of finish lines from cycling finish lines to the completion of an Ironman. Together, they began to coax me to the idea that this finish line shouldn’t be one of fear.
I decided to listen. I changed what the finish line meant to me: the end of a 5K I hadn’t trained a second for since I signed up. It seemed lame but I needed something.
I still texted my mom and sister to tell them I loved them before my race.
Then came Sunday morning and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” filling the air that surrounded the National Memorial and my fear turned into faith – that nothing would happen, that every one of the thousands of people surrounding me would be just fine and that we wouldn’t add any more tragedies to those we run to remember.
I ran because although I am Hoosier born and bred, in the last nine months I have become an Oklahoman and something inside me told me I needed to run this race to better understand the people and the state I cover, and also myself.
At 6:45 a.m. Sunday, I stood in line for the restroom outside the National Memorial with Oklahoman copy editor Jordan Gamble. In front of us was a family that all had shirts for the victim they were running for: Blake Ryan Kennedy. The one-and-a-half year old died 18 years ago and his sister and mother and cousins — some who looked just a year old, who had no idea what the day meant — were all wearing shirts and buttons with his adorable face on them.
I began to better understand.
Then came the race. Jordan, who is actually also from Indiana, snapped a few shots as we ran through the pretty empty streets of our new city. We spent a good mile running around people who stopped and turned around to take photographs of the OCPD Academy 130 that chanted as they ran. All the way through Bricktown we listened to them chant. Their cadence fueled us about a mile until they passed us on the bridge on N. Mickey Mantle Dr.
Then Jordan and I ran and laughed at people’s signs and high-fived little kids along the route. Near the end of the race, there was a slight incline on 10th St. I started to get a cramp in my stomach so I asked Jordan if we could walk for a few seconds until we turned the corner of Broadway. When we did, we saw the finish line. We looked at each other and took off sprinting.
Fear of the finish line? It had disintegrated. I stood behind it for the next few hours as I interviewed marathon and half-marathon finishers, watching some cross with their hands over their hearts while others collapsed as soon as they crossed that line marked “Finish.”
And my idea of what a finish line meant changed again. This is the line between who we were and who we now are. This is a line that shows us why we should be more patient when we have to take things out of our suitcases at the airport. This is a line that drew people from Massachusetts and Wisconsin and Nebraska and Oklahoma and so many other states together. This is a line that, although some may have had fear of, they set that fear aside and crossed it on Sunday.
This is the line that says even though you can hurt us, you can never break us – because we will always race to remember.