Scarred But Not Broken

Almost two weeks after the fact, can anything be said about the bombings in Boston that hasn’t been said before?

Actually, yes. Just ask Cookeville’s Tracy Epps, who was participating on April 15 in her second Boston Marathon.  Tracy is a really, really good runner.  But she’s much more than that. She’s a really, really good friend to lots and lots of people.
Including, I’m humbled to say, me.

In trying to figure out which way to go with a column on a subject as painful as this one, I talked at length with Tracy. I started with an easy question: How and when did she realize that something horrible had happened?

Tracy and fellow Cookeville runner Kim Hall finished the race about twenty minutes before the first bomb exploded.  “All you want when those 26 miles are done is for someone to hang a medal around your neck and then to go find your family and collapse,” Tracy told me. “But you’re not really finished after you cross the finish line. The race officials shuffle you from one station to the
next. First, water. Then Gatorade. Then a warming blanket. Then food. Finally,
the medal. Kim and I were heading, at last, to the family meeting area when we heard a loud crack. The ground didn’t rumble and we were too far away to hear screams or to see that anyone was hurt. But we saw smoke. Then we heard the second explosion. Somehow we knew it wasn’t fireworks or a celebratory cannon or anything like that. We just looked at each other and shook our heads and said
‘Oh, no. This is bad.’ ”

In the midst of the confusion, while scanning the crowd trying to find their husbands, Tracy and Kim noticed two young men in baseball caps frantically beating on car windows and begging for a ride. “Most of the crowd was quiet, like we were in a collective state of shock,” Tracy told me. “But these guys stood out because they were acting so angry and so desperate to get out of there.” When photos of the suspects were released a couple of days after the bombing, Tracy and Kim couldn’t help but wonder if those were the very same young men they had seen.

As I write this column, the older of those suspects is dead. His 19-year-old brother, still hospitalized, has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death.

Now comes the time to try to make sense of the senseless.

“For me, the bombing in Boston was almost as surreal as 9-11,” Tracy said. “Probably because I was right there. It made me feel sad. Angry. As a runner, I still feel personally violated. When people ask me why I run, I tell them I do it for
freedom. Freedom from boredom. Stress. Inertia. Anonymity. I run for peace. I
run for health and strength. I run for community. I run to praise my Creator who designed the human body to move. That someone would attack something as
pure as running and as iconic as the Boston Marathon is hard to understand.”

Tracy is a person of strong faith. Where, I asked her, was God on that dark Monday and the days that followed?

“He was with all the people who rushed to help,” she told me. “He is with everyone around the world who works to break the cycle of anger and misunderstanding that leads to horrible acts like this one. He is with believers of all faiths who pray for peace.”

I had one last question for Tracy. After the events of the past several days, has she considered giving up racing?

Absolutely not. “My husband Larry and I ran our first marathon together in 1998. He now has 38 marathons under his belt. I have six. We refuse to let this tragedy break us. Yes, it has created scars. But it has also inspired us and countless others to affirm the spirit of Boston by running stronger than ever.”

(April 28, 2013)


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