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Boston Marathon bombings: now everybody has a Heartbreak Hill

Boston Marathon attack
In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the Boston Marathon on Monday..(AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo)

I lived in Boston for three years. I even got the chance once to run the Boston Marathon.

Our running club was called the “Dead Runners Society” -- a name that now seems chillingly sad and foreboding.

We trained regularly on the famous Heartbreak Hill, not far from my house and about 10 kilometres from the site of Monday’s deadly blast at the marathon finish line.

Now everybody has a Heartbreak Hill in our memories and our minds.

Like many Canadians, I reached out frantically right after the blast to contact fellow runners in Boston -- catching them by text and cell phone and email in their hotel rooms, on the street …panicky, shaken up, but safe.

I tracked down an old friend, Phil Graceffa, who has been an organizer and a volunteer with the Boston Marathon for 24 years.

As usual, for Monday’s race he was in the city’s downtown core, not far from the finish line, making sure everything was running smoothly -- and then the blasts hit.

“It was horrific,” Graceffa said, recalling the chaos and the fear.

As an experienced race veteran, he noted that the timing of the blast -- just after the 4- hour mark in the race where most elite runners finish well under that time -- was particularly cruel because it meant that most of the people crossing the finish at that moment were the slower “charity” runners.

These were the dedicated people who would not normally qualify for the fast times of the race but get to run the famous marathon because they are racing money to fight diseases like cancer or diabetes.

“They were the very last wave -- all these people running for a cause, being greeted by their supporters, patients and family,” Graceffa said.

But Boston has an indomitable spirit.

What was Graceffa doing the morning after the tragedy?

Like many Bostonians, believe it or not, he was out running before heading to work.

“It was very sombre,” he admitted. “I think people are still numb.”

Even at work, Graceffa could not escape the aftermath of the tragedy.

That’s because he works in the IT department at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where so many of the victims of the attack were rushed for treatment.

“It was organized chaos,” at first he says but soon things calmed down. “It’s what a hospital gears for, sadly.”

How soon will the city I love recover, I ask him.

“Boston is a city but in a way it’s a small city,” Graceffa says. “It’s amazing how people pull together.”

He talked about how people opened their homes, their cars, their hearts to stranded runners and their families.

“We showed our best side,” Graceffa said. “For every evil person there are ten thousand good people.”

And you can be certain that today and tomorrow and in the days and weeks and years to come, there will more runners charging up Heartbreak Hill.

Maybe with a tightness in their chests and a pain in their hearts that does not come from the challenge of the run.

But they will keep on running until they make it to the top.


Julian Sher is a foreign affairs and investigative reporter for the Star. he can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @juliansher.


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32 dead in Baghdad bombings on the same day; slightly less news coverage....
Drone attacks at Pakistani weddings also make little news, despite number of people killed

The killing of civilians in drone attacks is tragic, however, this attack TARGETTED CIVILIANS, there was no atempt to engage a combatant. People need to stop comparing the 2.

What group was targeted at the wedding, the bride or groom's side? All bombings are targeted, whether it's in Boston or Baghdad. A horrible moment in time yes, but the only thing different between this and a wedding is the location. Innocent lives were lost, because it happened in the States doesn't make the lives of those people in Baghdad or Pakistan any less valuable.

And how much coverage do you think Boston got in the local newspapers in Baghdad and Pakistan? This happened in our neighbor's backyard... Of course it gets more coverage.

No one is saying that the lives of those who died in Boston is more important than the ones in Pakistan. Why even compare the two?

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