Healing Through Sports

By Kyle Rowland on April 21, 2013 at 6:00a
Boston, Monday

Anna Saelens crossed the finish line at the 2013 Boston Marathon at 2:45 p.m. Four minutes later, her life – and the lives of millions – would change in an instant. Two bombs were detonated near the finish line, injuring hundreds and killing three. Several Ohio State students witnessed the tragic events unfold before them in the streets of Boston, an American city resembling war-torn nations half a world away.

Those who were there have struggled with their emotions in the days since. Saelens is no different. In an email to Eleven Warriors, she revealed she doesn’t even like discussing the details with her parents and friends. Regret is another sentiment running through Saelens’ mind.

“I only wish that I had finished three minutes earlier, so I could have had the opportunity to turn around and help,” she said.

Boston native Taylor Landes was just enjoying another Patriots’ Day with her family. Their tradition includes the Boston Red Sox’s annual day game followed by a walk to Boylston Street to cheer on runners in the marathon. Many other Bostonians have the same itinerary for Patriots’ Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts. 

The entire commonwealth comes together with a festive spirit consuming its crown jewel, the city of Boston and its enduring marathon. Schools are out, businesses are closed, and fun and fellowship reign in the Northeast.

“It’s a day of joy and camaraderie,” said Landes, a junior at Ohio State. 

But the feel-good atmosphere was shattered with two blasts that rattled the city and reverberated from sea to shining sea. For Landes, the blast was far too real. She stood some 100 yards from the initial bomb site and even less than that from the second flash.

“It sounded like a canon firing,” Landes said. “I felt the impact hit my chest.”

But in a moment where one would think mass panic would choke the streets, the smoke from the bombs was the only thing clogging space. Landes described a serene scene where witnesses almost couldn’t believe what they had just seen.

“It took about five minutes for us to confirm they were bombs,” she said. “When we watched the second explosion, I turned to my future brother-in-law, who is an ex-marine, and he knew from the look on my face what I was wondering. ‘Yeah, I'm pretty sure that was a bomb’ was his answer to my expression.

“I will not let those terrorists win by putting my life on hold while I try to heal.”

“In anticipation of a frenzied mob, my dad shuffled my brother, future brother-in-law and me away from the street and against the building directly behind us. The crowd actually responded very calmly. People started heading back up Boylston Street, away from the finish line. A lot of credit for the calm crowd has to go to the Boston Police and first responders because they instructed the crowds very calmly, being sure to not start a panic. They handled the situation perfectly and so efficiently.” 

Landes, her family and friends were part of the fortunate segment of spectators that emerged unharmed. She was quick to point out, however, that they didn’t leave unscathed mentally. Landes caught glimpses of war zone injuries that no human being should ever be exposed to.

“I’m not sure if my family members saw those or not, but they certainly saw the blood-spattered people,” she said. “Seeing a bomb explode less than a block away from you is traumatizing enough in itself.”

The effects have left Landes seeking treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But she will not let the events alter her life, whether it’s the present, near future or long term. She will take her finals during the coming week and then go home to Boston.

“I will not let those terrorists win by putting my life on hold while I try to heal,” Landes said. “Those terrorists may have taken the joy out of the day, but they strengthened the camaraderie of the city.”

An international studies major, Landes has a new outlook on her future occupation.

“Although security and intelligence was not a strong interest of mine,” she said, “I am now strongly considering careers in that field, whether it's US intelligence or world intelligence.”

Mike Dibartola and his brother, Alex, both students at Ohio State, were already back at their hotel when the explosions occurred. But it didn’t lessen their shock any. Having run the course, they were in the vicinity of the horrific events only an hour prior.

Limbless bodies, pools of blood and bombs are not supposed to be present at sporting events. Sports have always acted as an escape from everyday problems and tragedies. Following 9/11, the World Series gave an entire nation a distraction from unspeakable horror and served as source of healing.

Thank you for your service.Rob Tackett, 11-year Army veteran.

For reasons unknown, sport offers up an elixir that’s ingredients remain hidden from view. But their existence is recognized. To then have that pastime under siege sends shockwaves through the sports landscape.

“The Boston Marathon is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, running event in the world,” Saelens said. “It is truly, truly, a shame that it will now be remembered for a terrorist attack.”

Whether it’s the New York Mets and New York Yankees providing indelible moments after 9/11 or an Ohio State loss ruining someone’s week, the impact sports have on our lives is always lurking.

But the events of this past Monday put it – appropriately – in perspective. Resolve has long been a quality present in Americans, especially after being trampled on. We come back stronger and more determined. Rob Tackett, an 11-year Army veteran, is evidence of that. He attended Ohio State for one quarter, but following 9/11 felt his calling was serving the country.

“That day inspired me to join the military,” he said.

It’s easy to dismiss sports as meaningless when tragedies strike. In a roundabout way, sports are still fantasy. Sure, real games are played but to what consequence? It turns out the value is significant. A touchdown, a three-pointer, or a home run can have a far greater influence than one might imagine.

When the Red Sox won Saturday afternoon, thousands stood with unbridled cheers along with tears. The day before served as a 24-hour period of turmoil mixed with elation. Now the home team performed an encore for the ages.

“(Friday’s events) have brought a feeling of closure for many of us, especially those of us who were at the finish line,” Landes said.

The role of sports, though, is still only beginning. 

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