The day “Boston Strong” was born

By: Chad Jones

For residents of Massachusetts, Patriots’ Day is one of the most anticipated dates on the calendar. The third Monday of April marks the unofficial arrival of spring. The cruel mistress that is New England winter has, hopefully, subsided by then.

Sports fans get to enjoy a rarity: morning baseball. Fenway Park hosts the Red Sox for an annual 11:05 first pitch. It is also safe to assume the Bruins, Celtics, or both, have a postseason matchup on the horizon.

The main attraction of the holiday is the running of The Boston Marathon. Thousands of people partake in the event that has been a Boston staple since 1897. The race begins in Hopkinton, Massachusetts and ends on Boylston Street.

What makes the event special are not the winners who finish with extraordinary times. The real heartbeat of The Boston Marathon is the school teacher, the musician, the mom who completes the 26.2 grueling miles. Their family, friends, and complete strangers cheer wildly as they glide into glory. For that day, along with Zdeno Chara and Jayson Tatum, they are a Boston athlete.

However, Marathon Monday would garner a whole new meaning after April 15, 2013.

On the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, disaster struck. Two brothers — 19-year-old Dzhokhar and 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev — placed two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line. At roughly 2:50 pm, as runners were streaming through Boylston, the bombs went off mere seconds apart.

Three were killed. 16 lost limbs. 264 were injured. Countless lives were forever altered.

Martin Richard, 8, Lingzi Lu, 23, and Krystle Campbell, 29, were the three souls to perish from the blast.

The explosions robbed them of monumental life experiences, yes, but also the smaller, seemingly less significant, everyday moments we all take for granted. No more family dinners, days at the park, nights at the movies. All of those activities were no longer possible, because two evil cowards decided to decimate those two areas. Through an utterly cruel twist of circumstance, these three individuals left us too soon.

The pain that day went beyond fatalities. Victims suffered physical and mental wounds they would not easily heal from. Some lost legs, and with that, lost the ability to feel the sand between their toes. Getting out of bed, up the stairs, into cars now became burdensome tasks.

The mental anguish those bystanders on Boylston experienced is hard to fathom. The sights, smells, sounds from the finish line must be permanently burned into their memories.

In seconds, first responders and regular civilians started doing anything they could to help those in need.

“Two people took many days and weeks to plan out hate,” said Patrick Downes, one of the victims who lost a limb from the explosions. “But love responded in an instant. The bombs went off and reeked incredible havoc, death, and destruction. But in that immediate instant afterward, people ran toward us.”

His words were played at the conclusion of Patriots Day, a 2016 film based on the events of that fateful afternoon.

Without hesitation, strangers began helping strangers in desperate need of assistance. This act was not limited to those trained in the medical field. Professional labels were the last thing on anyone’s mind. Those acts of heroism defined “Boston Strong”.

That term would soon be seen everywhere: social media, apparel, street signs. It became Boston’s mantra. The two words perfectly encapsulated the city’s resilience. The pain and suffering would not be healed right away. Some scars never leave. But history has proven Boston’s residents are there for one another during times of need.

The city poured out support to those who were dealt the worst hands. Charities were started to help the people who needed and deserved it most. The news made sure to keep the victims on the public’s mind. The sports teams gave many tear-jerking tributes to those affected that day. Boston did its best to help one another through the healing process.

Many wondered how that day would leave its mark on the city. What would the Boston Marathon look like the next year?

In 2014, Boston responded in more ways than one. Security was tighter than previous years, but that was not the only difference. Roughly 36,000 people ran in the race. Only 1996 saw more runners blaze down Boylston. Over one million people packed the sidewalks across the 26.2 miles to soak in the event. That doubled the average number of spectators. In an ending that would make Hollywood blush, American Meb Keflezighi won the race. It was the first time an American took the honor since 1983.

Seven years later, the wounds are still present, in one way or another. Some are reminded of 4-15-13 every time they look down. Others have marks on their body that will never go away. People strolling down Boylston can remember the three civilians and two police officers killed that week by taking in the two memorials. Those five families must recall those days all too well.

While Patriots Day is not always on the exact anniversary of that fateful day, that hardly curves the emotions felt on the third Monday of April. Celebrating and honoring those who lost lives, limbs, or loved ones is now as embedded as any Marathon Monday tradition.

The Boston Marathon has always been more than people running 26.2 miles. It was an event to look forward to. A day you got off work or school so you could spend it with friends or family. The start of spring.

Patriots Day has more meaning now than ever before. Each year, the city residents pay tribute to all those on Boylston that day in different ways. How we bless the departed and those still suffering are unique to all of us. Whatever your actions and emotions are on Marathon Monday, one thing remains very clear…

“This is our fucking city.” — David Ortiz.

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