Here is the story of my Oklahoma City Marathon, 2013.
I ran the final leg of a 5 person relay team in the 13th Oklahoma Memorial Marathon yesterday. I wanted to be in the race to honor not only the 168 innocents who lost their lives in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, but to include the 4 innocents who lost their lives in the bombing and aftermath at the Boston Marathon just 2 weeks ago.
The race starts at 6:30 am so we all arrive before sunrise. The cubes of light you see on the left are the 168 chairs representing the people who died in the bombing. The gate on the left is the 9:03 gate. I am standing at the 9:01 gate. The bomb went off at 9:02 and is represented by the reflecting pool in between the two gates. You can see the crowds gathering for the race in the dark. Later towards the start you can see the crowd a little better.
I was at the start of the Marathon to support a number of my friends and fellow coaches, Stephanie Greenquist, Angelika Carpenter and Courtney Johnson among many others. Due to the massive crowds we were stuck at the 7:30 pace sign with a thousand other people who should have been at the 9 or 10 minute sign. We didn’t get trampled.
Since I was on a relay team I didn’t have to run then but I wanted to be part of the moment, including the 168 + 3 seconds of silence honoring the dead of OKC and Boston. It’s a long silence and makes you feel many things, including for me a deep sense of gratitude. I ran about a 1/2 a mile with them, back to my hotel, so I could take off my sweats and get a quick breakfast. This was the scene when I stopped.
I took a shuttle to my relay stop and waited for the arrival of Louis, who was running the 4th leg. I would be running the 5th and final leg. Shortly after I arrived my boss at Fleet Feet Tulsa, Tim Dreiling, ran in to complete his leg. Two of the other relay members, David and Joel, were waiting for him. They are FAST!
Everywhere you looked there were people showing support for those hurt and killed in Boston. I liked the eye black this woman was wearing, as well as her headband.
As we run the OKC Marathon there are 168 flags along the route. Each flag has the name of one of the murdered. I read a number in a row, turn to face the street ahead and then look back up to read another 10 or so in a row. I did that the rest of the way in. It is a very moving and unique way to bring it home for all to see, and to put the pain of your own run in perspective.
I was also thinking about the survivors of these sorts of tragedies. The dead lost their lives, but in the here and now those who are still suffering are those who were not killed but were forever altered; physically, mentally or emotionally. This was brought home to me when I sat next to Robyn Pendleton on the shuttle bus to the relay exchange spot. She told me of a very personal connection that made her whole family want to run the OKC Marathon.
18 years ago she was a young mother with 2 boys. Both boys usually went to daycare but that morning the older child went to a birthday party at another location. Her husband dropped the younger son off at the downtown daycare and was driving away when it seemed like he got rear ended by what had to be a very large and fast truck. It threw his own truck a few feet forward with incredible force. But it was not a truck. It was an explosion. The Murrah building had just been blown up by a truck bomb.
Robyn worked at a south Oklahoma City YMCA location. She actually heard the explosion from where she was and saw the mushroom cloud rise in the distance. Inside her building they were quickly getting news that there had been a huge explosion downtown that had almost completely destroyed a building. They were all listening and watching reports when someone asked her where her sons were. Then it hit her.
This was in the days before ubiquitous cell phones. It took her over 2 hours to find out what had happened. Via about 5 or 6 connections she found out that her husband had gotten back to the day care at the downtown YMCA, less than a block from the Murrah Building, and had successfully retrieved their son, who was not injured but for a small cut below is eye where glass had hit him. She was able to get a ride downtown and was eventually reunited with her family.
If you have never been to the OKC National Memorial and Museum it is a site to behold. There truly is not a more moving and profound memorial to be found in the US if you ask me. One of the elements I like is the survivor wall, with all the names of those who were injured or impacted by the bombing, those who were within a certain radius. Robyn’s son’s name, Evan Pendleton, is on that wall. Being 3 years old, he doesn’t remember a thing but nonetheless it has impacted his life in a profound way, as it has for all his family.
As we ran the final leg of the marathon I caught up with Robyn. We high-fived each other as we moved at different paces to the finish line. When I found my other running buddies after the race we walked over, as many do, to the memorial. It was filled with people contemplating the 9:01 and 9:03 gates leading into the reflecting pool that takes up the symbolic 9:02, the moment of the explosion.
People sit and contemplate, resting after the race, meeting up with family and friends. People can be seen gathering around many of the 168 chairs that symbolize their loved ones. We stopped to take a photo of a group of women who were doing just that. Their departed loved one is gone, but is still present for them. It’s as powerful and beautiful as can be.
Each chair is individually sized. The children all have very small chairs.
As we went over to the map to see how the memorial was laid out Robyn was there with her relay team mates. I introduced her to my friends and told them the story of her young son.
Just then a good looking young man walked up. Robyn turned and introduced us to Evan, 18 years later, now a strapping 21 year old just off his very first OKC half Marathon.
It was great to see that out of something so negative and hurtful something powerful and positive had emerged.
That is how it is with tragedies, isn’t it, especially those purposely inflicted. The desired death and destruction by the criminal may occur, but it never lasts. Love and purpose and resilience is what lasts. That is what makes running this race so powerful, making this particular Marathon an amazing one to participate in and remember.
Story by Marty Coleman