Around mid-day on April 15th, Maggie Stack was trotting to her first finish at the Boston Marathon.
All was going smooth for the Boston College sophomore that day. Despite the typical waves of fatigue that overcome runners as they breach Heartbreak Hill and swoop down to the finish at Copley Square, she never felt like ending the race early.
She had trained too vigorously—dedicated far too much time out of the classroom—to stop prematurely. When you run the marathon as a Boston College student, you are assuming a serious time commitment.
It eats an inordinate amount of time out of your schedule, and, slowly, becomes the focal point of your life as race day nears.
I know because some of my closest friends followed Stack’s path. The passion was palpable. No one ever gives up. That’s why you see people walking in the flanks of the road late in the Marathon, gripping a muscle and wincing in pain.
Cramped calf or not, a marathon runner almost always finishes their race. It’s their livelihood after months of training, diet, and emotional preparation.
Maggie Stack was no different. She wasn’t going to let anything stop her from completing her goal. And to some extent, she never really did.
But, as the events unfolded that tragic day, we know that isn’t always our decision to make.
Stack was denied her goal as the race screeched to a halt, just before the straightaway on Boylston Street. Murmurs of a bomb and terrorists spread through a crowd of runners collectively motionless.
“I remember seeing the sign read ‘One mile to go!’ and feeling an overwhelming sense of excitement,” she said. “But a half mile later that all turned into fear. There was a wall of runners at 25.5 and I remember seeing everyone confused and crying and frustrated. It was the complete opposite emotions you would expect.”
Stack was one of thousands of participants deprived of finishing the Marathon, thwarted by the selfish actions of a few men who—at this point—should be long forgotten.
She remembers feeling that urge to finish what she started, but never got to satisfy it in Boston. Her opportunity came, however, 700 miles away in Cleveland, Ohio.
A little over a month after the bombings, Stack, supported by her two sisters who ran the half marathon portion of the race with her, crossed the line at the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon in four hours and 44 minutes.
With her finish, the ache in her body dissipated.
“There were so many emotions in the last few miles of the race,” said Stack. “When I saw Mile 25, I gained a lot of energy because I knew the end was near. But when I saw Mile 26, I did choke up a bit. My mind filled with thoughts of the [Boston] Marathon.”
Determined as ever, Stack pulled through the last leg with strength and character.
“I said the names of the three victims to myself, just as they were written on my hand, and I sprinted as fast as I could for the last 0.2 miles.”
Stack was emotional at the finish, drawing from the events related to the bombings as her source of motivation.
“I needed to finish a marathon to prove to myself that I could actually do it,” she said. “But I really found my motivation in the three victims, the countless injured, and the 5,000 or so runners who never got to finish.”
She needed that extra spark, too. Generally, marathon runners are supposed to take time off following a race as big as the Boston Marathon. Beginning training for another marathon a week or so after the conclusion of one of the toughest marathons in the world is not necessarily the easiest thing to do.
But Stack had no choice in her mind. She had to run the Cleveland Marathon to make sense of the events that unfolded on April 15th.
Just how each of us needed to inject some ounce of closure and rationale into the evil of that day, Stack pursued the Cleveland Marathon as a symbol of freedom and defiance. No one was going to limit her this time.
“Crossing the finish line at Cleveland was one of the best feelings in my life, Stack remarked. “I think anyone who trains for a marathon can tell you that after months and months of training, the moment you look forward to most is stepping over the finish line and looking back at all 26.2 miles you just ran.”
In the aftermath of the awful events that transpired that day, after the FBI had vacated Boylston and the suspects were captured, after millions rejoiced in Boston Common, Boston College, and everywhere around the world in lieu of justice and freedom, Stack added her feat to the countless tales of good that come from such evil.
Through her resilience, and most important, her undying devotion, Stack embodied the American spirit—something that Barack Obama spoke of before the smoke could even clear on Boylston Street.
Addressing the nation, President Obama said in a press conference, “If you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil – that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid."
In crossing that line in Cleveland, Stack validated the President’s words, and beyond.
Defying the barbaric actions of the cowards who ruined our day—our time to relish the good in humanity—Stack decided when it was time to end her race.
Terrorists may have stripped Marathon Monday of its usual jovial spirit, but the beauty of humanity, found best in Stack's pursuits, is what truly prevails.
Feature Photo By Jenna LaConte / Gavel Media.
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