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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sorting Out Boston



"Let not young souls be smothered out before they do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride." Vachel Lindsay

When I did an interview last year with a local Boston radio station, I told the audience Boston was my favorite city (outside of Milwaukee) and I meant it.

I visited Boston for the first time when I was fresh out of college.  I brought my freshly minted chemical engineering degree to Boston hoping to land a job with one of the local consulting firms.   I had two interviews, but the economy in the early 1980’s was worse than today. With double digit inflation and unemployment, companies were laying off employees not hiring.

I spent my time between interviews exploring Boston. I stayed outside the city so I even got to experience Boston driving.  I walked the freedom trail, took in a ball game at Fenway Park and wondered around the neighborhoods of Beacon Hill and the Back Bay.  I fell in love with Boston and since my first visit it has been a special place for me.

My second visit was just a few years later to attend a professional conference. The professional society running the conference held a 5 K race along the Charles River. I took 3rd in my age group, my first running medal ever.  That visit I stayed in the Back Bay area in a lovely bed & breakfast owned by a retired school teacher.

I returned again last year to run the Boston Marathon, the accomplishment of a long held dream. I set a goal of finishing in the top three in my division.  I was also doing a bit of media to promote awareness of CMT.  I felt the pressure to succeed due to the media and expectations within the CMT community. I achieved my goal by finishing 2nd in the Mobility Impaired Division.  Running the Boston Marathon was even better than I imagined.  The crowds were absolutely incredible. They cheered for me near the back of the pack like I was an elite athlete.  The race was brutal due to the heat.  Due to the tough conditions and expectations I set on myself, I felt I did not enjoy the experience as much as I could have.

I vowed this year’s Boston would be a celebration. I would have a good time and put no pressure on myself. I was also bringing two friends as guides because I wanted them to share in the Boston experience. Plus they would carry everything I needed for the day, making my run much easier. So this Boston was going to be about having fun and enjoying the experience. I wanted to really remember the experience because with my CMT, I never know if a race I run will be my last.

Usually I carry GU, sport beans and sports drink with me. I had forgotten my bag of goodies at the hotel. Since all I had was sports drink, I took advantage of food offered by race spectators.   Since marathon Monday is Patriots Day (State Holiday) the course is lined with families.  It is a long tradition in the small towns along the course to come out and cheer the runners and offer support in the form or water, ice, oranges and candy.  The course is lined with homes and whole families come out to cheer. It is not unusual to see a picnic or grill going in the background. It is a celebration in anticipation of the warmer weather after a long New England winter. It reminds me of some of our festivals here in Milwaukee.  We know all about long winters here in Wisconsin.

This race experience was such a contrast. I remember all the kids lined up on the route. So many little kids all along the course, holding an orange in their hand or a cup of water to give to runners. When I gave them a high five or took what they offered, their faces would just light up.  One little boy held out his hand to me as I passed.  In his palm, he had a single gummy bear. I did not really want or need a gummy bear, but he was so cute I just had to take it.  I put it in my mouth and told him how good it was.   He was so excited; he turned to his dad and said “she took my gummy bear.”  I don’t know if I was more thrilled or he was.  He was so sweet and so innocent.

I remember the girls of Wellesley College, screaming their heads off just like last year.  I would pretend I could not hear them and they would yell louder.  I would shout that they rocked, and they would crank up the volume a notch.

Equally impressive were the students of Boston College, they turned out in even greater number than the Wellesley girls.  Lots of cheering and high fives for blocks and blocks.  My right hand started to hurt and get numb from all the high fives.

I saw lots of runner’s dash off the course for a quick hug from friends and family.  There were family and friends supporting runners all along the course.  My friend Cheryl met me at 16 miles last year and surprised me by popping up after the 25 mile mark, just before the turn onto Boylston Street.  Many family members try to be at the finish to see their runner cross the line. One of my guides, Robert was going to try to get close to the finish line to see us come in.

I interacted so much with the crowds I felt bonded to them. Last year they had loved me as a runner and this year I loved them back. It made my 2nd Boston experience even better than the first.

That is why I think I was hit so hard by what happened. Martin Richard, an 8 year old local boy was killed as he waited for his dad to cross the finish line. He was just like the thousands of kids I saw lined up along the course. His mom and sister were with him and both critically injured.  It could have happened to any of the kids I saw along the course.  The bombing was such an evil act, contrasting with all the good I had witnessed that day.  My heart goes out to the families losing loved ones and to everyone injured on Monday. Such a senseless act that will change lives forever.

My friends and I were never in danger. The blast occurred long before we would have crossed the line. It is impossible not to be affected by those that lost their lives or were hurt. But you realize also that bomb could have gone off at any time. Life is fragile; things happen that you never planned.  If that bomb had been planted at the start there would have been even more death and injury.  Runners are packed shoulder to shoulder between metal barricades. I shudder to think about the panic that could have happened if a bomb had gone off there.  I would stand no chance in a stampede.

There was no happy ending for me or many of the other runners.  It is estimated up to 10,000 runners were still on the course when the race was stopped. No finish line victory, no finisher medal, no finish line celebration for me or those runners. No sense of accomplishment for a goal met.

I saw runners at the airport wearing their finisher medal.  I felt angry. I felt they were rubbing it in that they had finished and were celebrating a day when such tragic events occurred. It seemed out of place. I understand they may have been wearing their medal out of support.  It wasn’t rational to be angry but I was.

I did an interview with local television in Milwaukee about my race experience.  She asked me if I would go back and run Boston again. I would go in a heartbeat. I would love to be there in 2014 to show my support.    

I am still trying to sort out all my emotions about my experience at Boston this year.  I hope the catch those responsible soon. No punishment can possibly repair the damage done to the families affected by this incident.   Words aren’t adequate to describe the emotions I feel.

I hope to go back and do what runners do next year. When you meet another long distance runner there is just an instant bond. We understand the strength and discipline it takes to train for and complete a marathon. It is what we do.

I handle stressful things in life by writing and running.  I hope by running in Boston next year to support all of the communities along the route. What I can’t put into words I hope I can demonstrate by returning and running the event again.  Runners are strong and we can be strong for the people of Boston.  We can show them we understand and feel their pain. Although we cannot erase the events of Monday, we can do what runners do, overcome obstacles sometimes against all odds. We are strong and will be strong for the people of Boston.

 They really are the greatest fans in running and deserved so much better than what happened on Monday.
***************************
Chris Wodke
Founder & Manager Team CMT
www.run4cmt.com

Team CMT is a group of athletes and supporters working to raise awareness and to find a cure for CMT. We have 122 members in 26 states. If you wish to join us visit our web site.

CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy. It affects over 155,000 Americans (as many as MS).  It is a disease of the nerves that control the muscles. It is slowly progressive, causing loss of normal function and or sensation in the lower legs/feet and arms/hands.

Symptoms include; muscle wasting in the lower legs and feet leading to foot drop, poor balance and gait problems Atrophy in the hands causes difficulty with manual dexterity.

Structural foot deformities such as high arches and hammer toes are common.

Poor tolerance for cool or cold temperatures and many people have chronically cold hands and feet.

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties and hearing loss.


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