Competing in the Boston Marathon is the pinnacle for any serious runner, Marcus Parker will tell you.
That’s why the 43-year-old Macon physician’s assistant is lacing up his running shoes for Monday’s race, even after finishing last year’s race just minutes before two homemade bombs went off, killing three people and wounding more than 260 others.
“I’m running it because it’s the Boston Marathon,” Parker said. “There’s nothing like it. I’ve run (the New York Marathon), and it pales in comparison. ”
Parker is one of several Middle Georgians who’ll be running the race. While the prestige and challenge of the Boston Marathon are still the main draws for any runner, several of them said it’s important to show that they won’t give in to fear.
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“The terrorists want us to change our way of life,” Parker said. “I refuse to change.”
Lori Brewer, 45, a Macon software programmer, was close to finishing last year when the bombs exploded. Though she or members of her family might have been caught in the blasts had she been about four minutes faster, the events of last year didn’t dissuade her from running again.
“I’ve read where some people don’t want to have anything to do with it anymore,” she said. “But I think it’s going to be really exciting. It’s already a huge party in Boston because it’s Patriots Day. ... I feel like it’s important to get back out there and people are free to do what they want to do, or else the bad people have accomplished what they wanted.”
Though Brewer’s husband, John, and their children were farther away from the finish line, set to meet Lori at a cooling-off area afterward, her sister, Kathy Paschke, and Paschke’s husband and daughter had started to head toward the finish line to meet her. Had they left a little earlier, it’s possible that Brewer’s family members could have been near one of the bombs.
It was difficult to get information initially, Brewer said, since the cell phone networks went down because of excess traffic, with people trying to reach loved ones. John Brewer and the rest of the family were let out at Fenway Park with no knowledge of what was going on, and he had to walk back to try to find his wife.
Parker was about five blocks from where the bombs detonated, having already finished the race, but he couldn’t call anyone to let his loved ones know he was OK. He finally was able to get onto Facebook and sent out a message on his page to let family and friends know he was safe.
Amy Boyer, 43, a Forsyth attorney who is set to run in her first Boston Marathon, qualified for last year’s race but didn’t end up going. Her husband was attending a conference, and they decided to turn it into a family vacation with their children at Disney World. She said she was shocked to see what had happened at the race.
“I was very thankful I wasn’t there,” she said. “When I qualified to go to the Boston Marathon, I was disappointed I didn’t get to go. As things turned out, it was for the best.”
Many of the midstate runners said they were grieved by coverage of the victims, most of whom were spectators and not runners.
“Where (one of the bombs went off), my wife would have been standing right there if it had been an hour earlier,” Parker said. “Other families were not as fortunate, and my heart goes out to them.”
Better safe than sorry
Most of the Middle Georgia runners participating in the marathon said they don’t have too much concern about another act of terrorism, mostly because race officials have significantly increased security measures, even as the number of runners has increased.
Normally, about 25,000 people run the marathon, for which a runner must qualify. However, Brewer said, because so many runners like her didn’t get the chance to finish last year’s race, they were given waivers for re-qualifying for the event. This year’s field will be closer to 33,000, she said.
Race officials are taking extreme precautions to prevent a similar episode. The alleged perpetrators, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were eventually caught. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a gunfight with authorities, while his brother Dzhokhar was captured and is awaiting trial.
Michael Willson, 63, a frozen fish importer who lives in Fort Valley, is running his first Boston Marathon since 2011. He said it’s likely his last marathon, so he’s willing to put up with the new rules imposed on the runners.
“(The bombings were) a terrible thing -- just total bizarre craziness,” he said. “It’s going to have big differences that really affect runners.”
Willson said runners have been told they won’t be able to bring in any backpacks, seats or anything that can’t fit in a fanny pack, while Parker said runners can’t bring in drink bottles that contain more than a liter of liquid.
Willson said because the race begins so early in the morning, it’s often cold, meaning that runners either have to wear extra layers or leave them behind once the race begins. The extra layers of clothing that are abandoned are donated to the homeless.
Willson and Parker compared the bombings to Richard Reid, also known as “the Shoe Bomber,” who tried to blow up an airplane in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes. Since then, airline passengers across the country are required to have their shoes inspected.
“It’s like the shoe bomber -- it happens once and it changes your way of life,” Parker said. “That’s what makes terrorism terrorism. ... Unfortunately, we live in a very litigious society. (The changes) are an inconvenience, but for safety, that’s the way it has to be.”
Soldiers will no longer be allowed to run in their fatigues, and runners can’t compete in costumes. Brewer said a tradition at Boston College where students could join the marathon for part of the race near the campus will no longer be allowed.
Willson said he hoped not all of the race traditions are halted.
“I hope the girls with the signs at Wellesley (College) will still be able to kiss the runners,” he said with a chuckle.
Parker and the other runners said it’s important -- part of the American spirit -- to compete again this year.
“We’ve rebuilt the Twin Towers, we’re running the Boston Marathon, planes are still flying,” he said. “Americans are pretty resilient.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 478-744-4334.