Tonawanda News

April 19, 2013

ADAMCZYK: Running in the street

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It did not take long after the bombs or pressure cookers or whatever they were went off at the Boston Marathon this week that the message rang out across the nations, the blogosphere and the tweet world: they messed with the wrong city.

Boston, from my own experience, is not the sort of place that freaks out or rolls over when a tragedy befalls it. It did not take long for that sentiment to circle the globe, either.

So what kind of city does collapse in a heap of remorse, panic or bathos after an incident such as that of this past week? If it happened in Buffalo, how would we handle it, and would we handle it differently from Boston?

They’re giving the great city of Boston a little too much credit for staying strong. New York, Jerusalem, Paris, Tokyo, even Buffalo would not crack under such circumstances, and neither will Boston.

Indeed, stay strong, Boston. And stay strong, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Belfast and Aleppo.

It was only a generation ago Howard Cosell described sport as life’s toy department, but it is actually an experimental social cauldron for society. Sometimes it’s blindingly ahead of the curve, as in Jackie Robinson’s entry into major league baseball (there’s a movie out on the topic, and yes, kids, that’s more-or-less how it really happened); other times it is as slow as the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, but equally impactful. (The current buzz is that, any day now, one or more prominent athletes in professional team sport will declare themselves gay, and I am among those eager to observe how the world handles it.)

Beyond the dead and maimed at the Boston Marathon, I think about the marathon itself, a remarkable example of how America relates to sport. Several hundred professionals, several tens of thousands of amateurs, a field of play that is a series of city streets, an audience on the sidewalk and not in skyboxes, a place for everyone interested in involvement. Oh, and a colorful history that involves, among other things, a wisecrack from broadcast journalist Heywood Hale Broun: two doctors, friends, encouraging each other to participate in the Boston Marathon with taunts like “I bet you throw up before Mile 20, before I do.”

Watch documentaries of any sporting event’s history and you come to one that’s unlike the other. The 1913 Epsom Derby, in which a suffragette protesting her lack of a vote was trampled by horses. Spots on the list of World Series and Stanley Cup championships left vacant due to interruptions in the schedule caused by labor issues. Even that first of the only four Super Bowls that matter, the one in Tampa that came the weekend of Desert Storm, was regarded as the most joyless of them all. We remember wide right. The rest of the world recalls tight security and a constraint to the enthusiasm.

This year’s Boston Marathon gets an asterisk, I guess. I do not want to be the one to come up with the phrase that will go into the record books to describe it.

Race cancelled due to — wait a minute, the race was not cancelled; it went for four hours and nine minutes before it was stopped. Results ignored because some finished, some didn’t. Race stopped because we had more important things to do.

The parenthetical comment that will accompany “2013” on the list of Boston Marathons will not explain the full impact of the day’s events, but none of those lines do. We can look up the winner and his or her winning time, any year, but we need to dig to learn the stories, the incidents, the motivation behind running. It’ll be the same for this year.

Next year, they’ll run it again. Of course they will, and there will be more security, more edginess and (watch this) vastly more applicants to run than in previous years. To whatever badge of honor is conveyed in telling people you completed the Boston Marathon, a new badge will be issued: Urban life in this century does not scare you.

Funny, that amateur runners in America tend to be desk-bound professionals, or people who aspire to that sort of thing. In a way they are also something of an outlaw, or at least nonconformist (in the social, not religious way) class, the ones who seriously train for personal satisfaction, who set goals irrespective of dollar payoff. The ones who can run from downtown Buffalo to downtown Niagara Falls without stopping, as fast as they can.

Mess with them if you like, but don’t plan on stopping them. Boston can handle its current crisis. The marathon can as well.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at