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Original Issue

Healing Run

The 118th Boston Marathon was a story of 32,000 small victories and one massive triumph

THEY CAME DOWN Boylston Street, runner after runner after runner, through what one competitor called a "human tunnel of emotion." They cried. They grimaced. They sprinted. They limped. They spread arms wide and flew toward the finish. They high-fived those who pressed against the barricades, those who carried signs and wore T-shirts and banged cowbells.

So many runners, all headed toward the place where the bombs had gone off one year ago. Three had died on April 15, 2013. Some 260 others had been injured. The Boston Marathon, a Patriots' Day staple in this most patriotic of places, had become a mess of blood and smoke and broken glass.

A year later Jimmy Plourde just wanted candy. This was his small act of defiance. Last year, after the second bomb went off, Plourde went inside the remnants of the store Sugar Heaven. He found Victoria McGrath there on the ground, injured and scared. He picked her up and carried her outside, and a photographer snapped their picture, her leg wrapped in a tourniquet, her feet bloody, her arms draped around his neck. Plourde dropped McGrath off safely and went back inside to help others. And back inside again. And back inside again.

They all did. Plourde wanted to emphasize that on Monday. He wanted to credit all the first responders and fade back into a normal life. But first he went back inside Sugar Heaven. The floor was clean. The shattered glass replaced. He and his wife, Michelle, purchased $10 worth of gummy bears. They carried the bag with them. "To be able to buy candy and not have to think about what it looked like last year, I can't tell you what that means," Plourde said.

Increased security greeted a record number of runners (more than 32,000) and spectators (estimated around one million). There were surveillance cameras, and police on rooftops and searching bags. By lunch so many people had assembled near the finish that officials closed the entrances around it.

Then came Meb Keflezighi, an American runner with the most American of stories. He fled his birth country, Eritrea, in 1987, during a series of wars, for the United States, settled in San Diego, went to UCLA and later claimed a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics and won the 2009 New York City Marathon.

Keflezighi had been in Boston last year. Sidelined with a calf injury, he did not race, but he was near the finish when the bombs exploded. They reminded him, he said, of his war-torn childhood. He vowed then he would return. "When the Red Sox won and put the trophy on the finish line, I wanted to do that for the runners," he said.

Few expected him to win. Not at 38 years old. Not with a personal best of 2:09:08. But Keflezighi went to the front early, a daring strategy. The crowd propelled him. They chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" He returned to the same thought, over and over, two words that have come to define this city's response to a tragedy: Boston Strong. Keflezighi would later wrap himself in an American flag, the names of the four who had died (Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard and MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was killed three days later) written on the corners of his race bib. "This is probably the most meaningful victory for an American, because of what happened last year," he said after he became the first American man to win in Boston since 1983.

As Keflezighi churned toward the finish line, crossing in 2:08:37, the crowd went wild. Runners passed a fire station—Ladder 15, Engine 33—a makeshift memorial displayed out front. There were daffodils, American flags, a boot, a silver pendant, a Bruins towel and two wreaths. Firefighters sold T-shirts, and one, Mike, was on duty last year. "I'd rather not talk about it," he said. "That's all in the past."

On Monday everyone who attended the marathon attempted to move on. Where there had been death and chaos, there was now a marriage proposal. Rita Jeptoo (2:18:57) won for the second year in a row and the third time overall. And two participants, Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, who each lost a leg in the bombing, crossed the finish line—together.

"I didn't really know how I was going to handle it," said Ernst Van Dyk, who won the men's push rim wheelchair division. "You could feel something push into your throat." Not nerves. Not exactly. More like pride and resilience and defiance.

"So I'd rather not talk about it," he said. "That's all in the past."


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