One year later: Boston, still strong

One year ago on April 15, two bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three spectators, injured 264 people and rattled a city on one of its biggest days of the year.

However, if you ask DePaul senior and Hopkinton, Mass., resident Paige Girardi how she feels about this year’s race, the response is overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s going to be amazing and really special this year,” she said.

Monday marks the 118th Boston Marathon and the city’s Patriots’ Day celebration. Boston residents, runners and others across the country have spent the past week remembering those affected by the actions of Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, But like Girardi, they’re also using this anniversary to honor the city whose resilience warranted the unforgettable slogan “Boston Strong.”

Hopkinton, Mass. is 26.2 miles west of Boston and the location of the marathon’s starting line every year. Marathon Monday is one of Girardi’s favorite days, and she even ran the race for charity in 2011. She remembers feeling shocked and heartbroken by the bombings, but this year, she remembers the city’s – and nation’s – spirit above anything else.

“The sense of community was huge afterward, and I could feel it even though I wasn’t there,” she said. “This year especially, it’s going to be just monumental.”

Girardi thought about going home for the race this year, but decided against it. However, she plans to watch it on television and might even go for a run to honor the occasion.

“It’s just heartwarming to see that it’s still a priority around the country to be supporting Boston,” she said.

In response to the 2013 attacks, Boston officials have worked to protect this year’s race. According to a press release from the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), the Boston Police Department will deploy an increased number of uniformed and undercover officers. Officials have also installed 100 security cameras along the Boston part of the marathon route. Large items such as backpacks have not been banned from the event, but will be subject to search.

The city has also provided immediate access to emergency counseling for anyone affected. The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) offered workshops last week to help residents prepare for the marathon, and in-person and phone counseling will be offered Monday through the mayor’s health line.

“We understand that the anniversary may trigger a lot of emotions for anyone impacted by last year’s attack, and we want to make sure people have access to the support that they may need,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of BPHC, said in a press release.

Despite the additional measures, Girardi believes officials haven’t overdone or overemphasized security.

“I think this year especially they just did a really good job of recognizing how important it is, but also just letting it be and letting it go,” she said.

And indeed, stories of strength, recovery and the desire to move forward have been the true focus of the anniversary. Mark Colpoys, for example, is the vice president of event marketing and management at Fleet Feet Chicago and the head of its Boston 365 program. The training program starts in January and prepares runners for the city’s hilly terrain, which proves a challenge for marathoners across the country.

While he’s never run the marathon himself, Colpoys was at the finish line last year cheering on Fleet Feet’s runners. At one point, he left to file his tax return at the hotel (April 15 being Tax Day) and to check on program members who had already finished the race. As soon as he arrived – the hotel was only two or three blocks away from where he was sitting – the news broke.

“All of a sudden we heard that something had happened at the finish line,” he said. “We weren’t quite sure what had happened and then basically chaos broke loose.”

From there, Colpoys said, they immediately started to track down their runners to make sure everyone was safe. It took about 2 hours, but they eventually accounted for everyone. “It was one of those things where like ‘Oh gosh all of our people are safe,’ and you feel good that all of your people are safe and then you stop for a second and go, ‘There are some people who aren’t safe,'” he said. “It was a very emotional time for everyone.”

Despite the experience, Fleet Feet this year had a 25 percent increase in the number of people from the program who had a qualifying time for Boston. Additionally, there are 50 people in Fleet Feet’s new “aspiring program” who haven’t yet qualified for the marathon, but hope to next year.

“There has not been any resistance to go,” he said.

That trend isn’t limited to Fleet Feet, either. According to Runner’s World Magazine, the number of qualifiers who registered in September exceeded the number of available spots, forcing the organization to “rank entries on the basis of time under one’s qualifying standard.” The surge came after BAA increased the field size for this year’s race by 9,000 runners, which brought the total to 36,000.

Additionally, officials allowed the 5,624 runners who couldn’t finish the 2013 race to begin registering in August, the Boston Globe reported. More than 4,700 of them will reportedly be running Monday.

63-year-old DePaul art history professor Curtis Hansman will be running her first Boston Marathon. She had the desire to participate before last year, but she acknowledged that this race is a special one.

“The entire (Boston) community sees this as a big event, and a community pulled together to ensure that it would continue as a statement that we aren’t going to succumb to terror,” she said.

Latin School of Chicago cross country coach Dan Daly, meanwhile, ran the marathon last year and will return despite the frightening experience. Daly finished the race safely, but remembers hearing the explosions as he walked back to his hotel.

“I instinctually ran toward the scene because I was pretty close to the finish line, but as I was running toward it, everyone was running away,” he said. “And so, I look at people’s faces, the fright, and I saw a couple of young boys, and just the terror on their face gave me pause. I thought about my own wife and kids back in Chicago, and I thought, ‘Oh my god what am I doing? I’m not a first responder.'”

Daly said the running community expressed an interest in running this year immediately after the incident, and he decided to join some of his friends to show support. While he acknowledged that the last turn on Boylston will be “raw,” he believes good will come out of this year’s Marathon Monday.

“I know it will be a little bittersweet passing where the bombs went off, but I’m looking forward to an uneventful race, a beautiful day and just a celebration of all the positive things.”

Courtney Jacquin contributed to this story.