The Five Days That Showed The World The Strength Boston Always Had

Going to college in Boston, Marathon Monday was the best day of the year. The world's oldest marathon, the Boston Marathon began in 1897, and has occurred every year since. Each Marathon Monday, approximately half a million people gather to watch the roughly 30,000 runners as they trek from Hopkinton to Copley Square in Boston. Inspired by the marathon competition of the 1896 Summer Olympics, the Boston Marathon has evolved into an international event with runners participating from up to 60 different countries. Though it's a 26.2 mile race just like any other marathon, it has developed into a fundamental part of Boston's history and culture, with most schools and businesses given the day off to celebrate the momentous day.

In 2013, Marathon Monday started just like the years before. However, in just a matter of seconds in the mid-afternoon, everything changed and thus prompted the five days that showed the world what "Boston Strong" really means.

April 15, 2013 was exceptionally warm and sunny for a mid-April Boston day. It was my senior year at Boston University, my fourth Marathon Monday, and at this point we were all pros at navigating the long-awaited day. After eating our breakfast of eggs, toast, and beer, we headed down to the course at our usual watching place at the intersection of Beacon Street and Park Drive — about one mile from the finish line. 

At around 1:30 p.m., my roommates and I left our posts and headed back to our apartment. Just as we were almost home, text messages started flooding in. My now-husband, who was at his apartment, said my mom was trying to get a hold of me, and everyone was asking if I was okay. We were so confused — of course we were okay, we were more than okay, it was Marathon Monday after all. We then learned there had been a bombing near the finish line of the Marathon. Amid the confusion, panic entered the equation as we tried to get a hold of everyone we knew, specifically a friend who ran the race that year. Cell service was down and texts weren't going through. Our minds raced — how bad was this bombing? What was unfolding some couple miles away? Thankfully, we eventually learned everyone was safe and accounted for. Though still unclear about what exactly happened, we tried to end the night with some level of normality, but it was impossible to shake the ominous feeling that something terrible was at play. 

The next day, we returned to class with an undeniable cloud hanging over all of us. There wasn't just sadness on everyone's faces, but fear, as well. Something so sacred had been meddled with — someone had tried to take it from us. But what could we do? We all felt helpless. On Thursday April 18, the FBI released pictures of the suspects, asking for the public's help. We all tuned in to watch the official announcement on TV at 5:20 p.m. I'll never forget the surveillance footage of the two men, each in their caps, walking among the crowd with their backpacks containing the two bombs made from pressure cookers that would explode 210 yards, and 12 seconds apart, at 2:49 p.m., just feet from the finish line — the bombs that would take the lives of Martin Richard, 8, Krystle Campbell, 29, and Lingzi Lu, 23, and injure an estimated 264 others.

That night, as I lay in bed, I started hearing sirens that never seemed to end. Feeling the sense that something terrible was going on, I found out an MIT police officer had been shot and that the suspects were still at large. At that point, we didn't know the suspects were the two Tsarnaev brothers responsible for the bombing just four days before. I fell asleep to the sound of sirens echoing in the background, like a sick and twisted lullaby singing me to sleep.

The people of Boston know who they are, and they know what makes their city special. I do, too.

I woke up on Friday to the news that the whole city of Boston was on lockdown and everyone needed to stay indoors. After Sean Collier, the MIT officer, was shot, the Tsarnaev brothers hijacked a car. I later found out they hijacked the car at the end of my alley of a street where I lived (it's literally .1 miles long). After the driver managed to escape, the police tracked down the brothers and a shootout in the neighboring city of Watertown ensued. The older brother, Tamerlan, was injured (ironically by being run over by his younger brother, Dzhokhar), and later died at the hospital. Dzhokhar abandoned the car and escaped on foot. And that's where we were on Friday morning — with the police asking everyone to stay indoors so they could find the missing suspect. 

Let me tell you, it's beyond eerie to see a major city completely desolate and void of life. My roommates and I turned on the news, not really sure what to do considering we weren't prepared to be on lockdown in our apartment all day. As the day went on, nothing changed. We grew restless, and by evening we started to see people emerge from their homes. Then, "BREAKING NEWS" flashed across the screen — they had located the remaining brother, and not too long later, he was in custody. People literally burst into the streets, cheering. We cried. I felt so proud.

It may be trite to say the city of Boston banded together following the bombings, but it did. The slogan "Boston Strong" emerged, and while it has been overused and over-commercialized, it doesn't mean it's not true. Boston is a tough city and it always has been — in fact, it's one of its most defining qualities. There is an undeniable sense of pride radiating through the streets, which was one of the biggest things that drew me to the city when I was looking at schools. As someone who feels an extreme amount of pride in regards to growing up in the Bay Area, I've always felt comfort in that. The people of Boston know who they are, and they know what makes their city special. I do, too. 

While I had always loved Boston, those five days solidified that feeling and assured it would never falter. Together, we had gone through something we had never experienced before. The pain, anger, and heartbreak was shared among us all, generating a sense of support we all desperately needed. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of horrific event, but we figured it out together. Talking about it still brings tears to my eyes. 

The following year, rather than giving into fear, 36,000 runners participated in the race and an estimated 1M gathered to watch — double the usual number. The man who won, Meb Keflezighi, became the first American man to win the race in 30 years. He had the names of the three people killed the previous year written on his bib, and in an interview he remarked, "I did it for Boston." Another woman who ran in 2014 after also running the previous year, Shalane Flanagan, said, "I wanted to send the message that I was not afraid to be back here." My friend, Kaitlyn Medeiros, ran last year in 2018. When asking her if the bombings crossed her mind, she responded, "Honestly, I did think about it. It was hard not to, but I wasn’t scared that it would happen again. Boston wouldn’t let that happen again. That marathon is such a part of the Boston culture." She continued, "The whole city banded together after that. You know with all the 'Boston Strong' stuff — it's cliché, but it's real."

The bombings that occurred on April 15, 2013 will always be associated with the marathon, and the pain it has caused people unfortunately cannot be erased or denied. And yet, somehow, the Boston Marathon and Marathon Monday remains unchanged. The bombs took people's lives and limbs, but they were unable to take away the magic and spirit of the passion-filled day. Each year, the Marathon comes and goes, and each year people line the 26.2 mile course in excitement and pride. Rain or shine, the race goes on, just as the city of Boston has since that fateful day. Sure, you can say the bombings made Boston stronger, but really, it just revealed the strength Boston had all along.

Associate Editor at Livingly. You can reach me by email at sydney.fogel@livingly.com and on Instagram @sydneyfvz
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