Decency Triumphs over Evil: The Boston Marathon

Author: Charles Monahan '62

“Unless it’s Boston it is only a qualifier.”
“Some finish lines are more important than others. That’s what happens in Boston.”

These are just two of the poster slogans hanging on my wall. The only marathons for which a runner has to qualify are the Olympics (every four years) and Boston (every year). Only the best worldwide marathons are Boston qualifiers. For long distance runners the Boston is both Mecca and Jerusalem and it’s the world’s oldest annual marathon. Yet into this environment came unspeakable evil. But through that evil, the world, and I, witnessed tremendous good.

I have run the Boston Marathon three times and last year was the oldest qualifier that year. This year I was a volunteer and my friend Larry Lekens, the race director for Indianapolis, and his wife Sue were staying with Kathy and I while he ran the 26.2 mile course from Hopkinton to Boston. Having run the course I can tell you it’s not the easiest in the world, but it is the most satisfying.

On Patriot’s Day, Monday, April 15th, I dropped Larry off at Copley Square for the buses heading to Hopkinton a little before 7 a.m. with expectations that he was going to run a sub-four hour marathon, which is every bit of alright for someone in his 60’s. We would meet him at the finish line a little bit before 3 p.m. Since I was volunteering at mile 7, I had to hurry to Boston to meet them as Larry ended his sojourn. Thank God he didn’t meet his own schedule.

A little bit before 3 p.m. I talked to Kathy to let her know that I was close to the finish line on Boylston Street and would soon be there. As I turned onto Boylston about 50 yards from the finish line I heard a loud explosion echoing throughout the tall buildings and saw a big burst of smoke. As a Vietnam veteran, I instinctively felt that the first was a “trap” bomb and another would soon follow once confusion had set in from the first. Unfortunately, I was right, but I was safely on a knee around the corner on Exeter Street, about 50 yards away from the second explosion. With people from the stands running confusedly away and some tripping on each other, two police officers and I began yelling at them to slow down, to get out of the area and to get their wits about them. Most did.

Since I was the only one there with a Boston Athletic Association volunteer jacket on the police sergeant must have thought I was an official and asked for me to assist in the evacuation of the Lenox Hotel on Exeter Street. Meanwhile, many more officers showed up and while doctors, nurses and other medical support personnel entered the area we were able to get some of the injured to ambulances and clear the rest of civilians. However, my personal fear factor reached a high peak when all cell phone use was curtailed and I didn’t know where the ladies were and if they were okay. I was only able to contact them two hours later.

A little group of officers and I went up to the Westin Hotel some two blocks away and assembled some of the families that were there with their runners as well as individual competitors many of whom did not speak English and had no money. As it began to get colder the Westin was shut down leaving tired, aching and fatigued runners shivering in the cold. Luckily some locals let perfect strangers, although runners, call wherever they wanted to notify loved ones that they were all right. People that were evacuated from the Westin stayed with us and some even asked us where they could donate blood, even though they had just run a marathon. When I ran out of money for coffee and cab fare for those who had loved ones nearby others then pitched in. One lady from China who was frightened, sore and didn’t speak English was driven to her hotel some five miles away by two English gentlemen in business suits whom she will never see again. Considering the circumstances, help was given to those who needed it by so many.

In the meantime, my friend Larry, who was on a 4:10 pace, was stopped about five blocks from the finish and escorted with perhaps about 1000 other runners to the Boston Common about a half mile away. As it got colder people began leaving their hotels with warm clothes and food and distributing them to the runners that were there. Those runners who were accustomed to colder climes gave their clothes to those who were shivering. Two hours later most of them had been picked up or had other places to go and gave back what they had been given to the homeless. The Boston Common had never seen a better dressed group of permanent overnight guests. Oddly, my friend Larry kept one item: a red stocking cap with the word ARROWS (St. Sebastian’s School in Massachusetts) on it. As luck would have it seven ARROWS alumni graduated from Notre Dame in the class of ’62, myself included. I accused him of being a social climber.

What we learned from the day’s atrocious events is that in the worst of situations caused by vile people, the best of humanity rose to the top. Runners and young people who were crying were reminded that if people weren’t meant to cry, God would not have issued us tears. No one is born to be alone, and thousands of people from around the world met hundreds of new friends which they may never see again but with whom they will always be connected. In remembrance of that day, my new goal is to try and get a bib to run Boston next year.

Charles O. Monahan ’62 has competed in three Boston marathons and 34 others, with at least one on each continent. He is an attorney and retired Navy commander.