I am a spectator. When it comes to sports, I am not a fan, not an athlete, just a watcher, a member of the audience. I grew up about 60 miles north of NYC, attended college at UMass Amherst during the reign of Coach Cal, and eventually married and settled in the metro west Boston area. I have been to baseball, basketball, and hockey games. I have sat in Yankee Stadium, the Meadowlands, the Boston Garden, Fenway Park, and "raged in the cage" at UMass. Each time it was fun, exciting, and I cheered for the home team. However, for me it was not about the game, not about who scored or who won. It was about the experience of being a spectator, the smell of peanuts and popcorn and hot dogs. It was about being part of a community of people all cheering or jeering for a particular team/player. It was celebrating or commiserating together at the end of the game as we exited the arena.
. . . on September 11, 2001, evil people attacked NYC, my city, and I was a spectator watching on TV . . .
About 9 years ago, my husband started running. It took some time for me to figure out how to be a spectator at a marathon. It is not the same as attending a sporting event at a field or stadium. It is not a large group of people all cheering for the same team. Instead, it is friends and family, one person or small groups, cheering on and supporting their individual athlete. Over the years I have learned not only how to be a marathon spectator, but to love it. Marathon spectators are a very special and dedicated breed. We plan in advance, figuring out how to see our runner at multiple points during the race. We walk, drive and take public transportation so we can cheer at the start, the 1/2 way point, and again at the finish line. We carry extra water, Gatorade, energy gels, and bandages, never knowing exactly what our runner might need when we see them along the marathon route.
I have experienced a sense of camaraderie at marathons like at no other sporting event. There is no rivalry, we don't care who wins. No discussions about teams or coaches. While we may be present to cheer on a specific friend, or spouse, or sibling, or parent; ultimately all race spectators are rooting for every runner to make it across the finish line. We stand there clapping, yelling, ringing cow bells at every runner that passes as we wait for our one special runner. We cheer for everyone, "You can do it green shorts", "Go blue sneakers, Go", "Woohoo, keep running!"
. . . on April 15, 2013, evil people attacked Boston, my city, and again I was a spectator watching on TV . . .
I think of all the times and places I have been a marathon spectator, cheering on my husband (J's dad) in Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and our 'hometown city' of Boston! It meant so much to my husband to run in the Boston Marathon in 2006 and 2007. He is part of the running community, a member of a local running club; and by proxy, J & I are part of this club, this community, for we are the spectators.
And so, following the tragic attack at the Boston Marathon, I mourn the lives that were lost. I am relieved and grateful that my husband and his immediate running community are all safe. My sympathy goes out to all the runners who trained so hard and were unable to finish. However it is the injured spectators for whom my heart aches. I can not even put words to the pain and sadness I feel for my fellow spectators. I have stood beside them, and now many of them have lost the limbs on which they stood.
. . . We have all become spectators, witnesses to extreme acts of violence and terror, in Oklahoma City, and Columbine, and NYC, and Blacksburg, and Newtown, and Boston . . and now every city is my city, every city is OUR city . . .
It is time for us to join together as a community of spectators. We must do our job, we must cheer on the people who are facing the toughest marathon of their lives . . .recovery from tragic, violent injuries. We must find ways to line the routes of their recovery with hope, prayers, faith, spirit, and energy. Just as we do for the runners, we must cheer words of encouragement - "You can do it!" and "You're doing great!" and "Keep going!" I am a spectator who can also take action and will contribute to the recovery of all who were hurt in any way I can!
Boston is strong! The running community is strong. I believe that one year from now, at the 2014 Boston Marathon, there will be many, many runners and with them an influx of new spectators mixed in with the veterans. We will stand together, dedicated individuals who refuse to let an act of terrorism scare us away from cheering along the marathon route! We will no longer be just spectators, but participants standing together strong and proud!