Susan McDonald has unfinished business in Boston.
A year ago she was mere minutes away from the finish line of the Boston Marathon when homemade bombs went off in Copley Square. The tragic and infamous event claimed three lives, injured hundreds more and shocked the entire world.
Rather than be scared away, McDonald will be one of a dozen runners from Thunder Bay, and thousands from across the globe, who will gather in Massachusetts next Monday for the first running of the world’s oldest annual marathon since last year’s terrorist attack.
“I have a mission. I want to go back and hit Boylston Street and cross the finish line because it’s something I didn’t do last year,” she said with a strong resolve in her voice. “I feel that it’s something I want to go back and do. I feel strong and I feel it’s something we have to do.”
That’s not to say the decision to return was an easy one to make.
Both McDonald and her close friend and training partner, Deborah Frederickson, admit that fear and anxiety have crept in as the 118th Boston Marathon approaches.
Even one year later the memories of pandemonium and chaos are still vivid.
But they're both determined to move forward and create new positive memories.
Frederickson, who crossed the finish line less than 10 minutes before the explosions, says the decision to return is about not letting an act of evil overshadow an event and sport that means so much to her.
“It’s been part of us and what we’ve been doing for years. We can’t just stop and say we’ll never go to another marathon,” Frederickson said. “It’s not going to happen”
While they have both ran other marathons since last year, Boston is not just any other run.
The Boston Marathon, first held in 1896, carries the highest prestige of any long distance road race, with runners from across the world training for the opportunity to make the pilgrimage to one of the sport’s most historic venues.
In order to compete, runners must complete a separate marathon in the previous calendar year while meeting their age-group qualifying standard. Some spend their entire running lives chasing qualification.
The history and work required to qualify make Boston a popular bucket-list item.
“If you go to Boston ,it’s like going to the Olympics,” Frederickson said. “That’s what it’s like for us."
While they relish the history, McDonald and Frederickson both say it is the atmosphere that makes the Boston Marathon as memorable and special of an experience as it is.
They should know - McDonald will be running her 10th Boston Marathon while Frederickson will be participating in her seventh.
The opportunity to be a part of the healing process for the city, state and global running community while celebrating and paying respects to the spectators and volunteers made it feel necessary to return.
“Before you start the race and the whole time you’re there they treat you like no other place I’ve ran a marathon. They just put you on this pedestal,” Frederickson said.
“We’re going to run strong in Boston. We’re going to run for the people last year and the people supporting us who got injured.”
Frederickson recalls being in Boston’s Logan International Airport last year after the event and being approached by an FBI agent, who implored them to return and not let the tragic events put a permanent damper on the venerable event.
It’s a moment that will be forever etched in her memory, and one that highlighted the significance of their decision to return.
As the race draws closer, both have started to imagine the feeling of approaching the final stretch down Boylston Street and trying to picture what will be going through their minds once they complete the 26.2 mile distance.
“I think there is going to be a lot of emotions for everyone that crosses this year. I think it’s going to be very special and the number of people who are going this year proves that we are strong as runners,” Frederickson said.
For McDonald, she can’t wait to go through every step of the 26.2 mile adventure and finally have her finisher’s medal hanging proudly around her neck.
Full list of runners from Thunder Bay:
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