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James Ferragut, Published April 20 2013

Ferragut: Marathon tarnished forever

It was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. I didn’t know what to expect; I just knew I was fortunate to be there. It’s considered to be the Holy Grail of the sport – it’s “the one,” the most revered. Iconic: the Boston Marathon.

My cousin Phillip, my wife and I took the subway to get to our destination. The crowds were huge, the urgency to get to the finish line platform was intense as we ran, darted through traffic and squirmed our way through the masses.

It was cold for the season, hazy and rainy, but the anticipation and adrenaline trumped our discomfort. A barely audible sound rose from the east, echoing off buildings through the streets to where we stood. It was the sound of cheering, clapping, whistles, yelling – an odd sound. It grew from a whisper to a deafening roar in minutes. Then it was on us and I stood in awe as the first of the wheelchair racers crossed the finish line. I still have goose bumps.

Minutes later the same faint sound started again. This time we knew it was a runner. Phillip insisted that I get on his shoulders so I could take the perfect photo. The crowd was deafening as we watched Bill Rogers win his third Boston Marathon. It was 1979. The T-shirt I bought, and the next day’s Boston Globe, are framed and hanging on a wall at Beyond Running in downtown Fargo.

My grandparents emigrated from Sicily to Boston in 1917. My father and his four brothers were born and raised there and it’s where my relatives still live. Boston has been a second home to me and my family. The news of the bombing on Monday cut like a knife.

Phillip, Terri and I were once standing where two explosions broke Boston’s heart. That fact is damn sobering. But nothing will compare to the ache of losing souls, the trauma of the horrifically injured and the numbness of those who helped triage them.

Most people in the Upper Midwest don’t know much about New England and probably less about Boston. It’s not one of those faceless major market cities; it is a city of character. Boston wasn’t a victim of the white-flight to the suburbs. A beautiful, historic downtown is fully intact. Graveyards from the 1600s are protected by wrought iron fences, tucked neatly between 18th century buildings and 21st-century skyscrapers.

Historic markers of the Revolutionary War – Old North Church, Paul Revere’s home – are around every corner. Ethnic neighborhoods have become international destinations. The Italian North End reflects its European origins and is perfect proof that Boston is a city North Dakotans would find comfortable and safe.

My dad and uncles tell me they remember the runners of the Boston Marathon going through their neighborhood when they were kids. Imagine that. This marathon reflects everything good and positive about us: It’s the challenge of runners who train and sacrifice so much to accomplish a tenuous, evasive goal. It’s Bostonians who embrace runners from every state and country in the world at every foot of the 26.2 miles. The Boston Marathon was the perfect game.

But life has done its dirty job. Now the pristine 117-year legacy of the Boston Marathon is tarnished. Forever.


Ferragut is a marketing consultant and regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion and commentary pages. Email jferragut50@gmail.com