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. 


Comments Show All Comments

Hovenaut's picture

Sports may be competitive by design, but it brings us together in ways we sometimes never realize. This is who we are, this is what we do as Americans.

Appreciate it, Kyle. Thank you for sharing.

buckguyfan1's picture

Great share! America's passion for sports is residue from its passion for Liberty! 

gwalther's picture

I am a firm believer that I live in the greatest country in the world. 
(And that isn't said with any disrespect or smugness towards other countries, it's said only with love for this one.)

Class of 2008

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great article Kyle!  This really helps to show how sports are a great thing that helps us celebrate our culture.  When something so bad happens like it did last week it is amazing how all of the people step up and help the injured like they did in the face of such evil.  We hear a lot about the bad on TV and so forth, but I still do believe that there is a lot more good that is out there.  It is a shame that we do have to deal with events like this when people devote themselves to such wasteful hatred.  However, it does show the spirit that really does exist in most people and how so many rushed to help the injured last week.  Seeing how people chanted USA in the streets after the second terroriest was caught and the the celebration at the baseball game was really good to see.  It showed that even though some people will try to change the way we live that we as Americans will continue to live our lives and celebrate sports. 
My heart goes out to those that were injured and killed.  Hopefully the injured can recover as much as possible.  Again great article Kyle - really appreciate it. 
Go Bucks!

Basso Profondo's picture

Although it is a terrible tragedy on every level imaginable, only seeing it on the news steals some of its ability to hit home (especially since I don't have a large stake in society quite yet).  Then I saw the name of the first girl in the article, I went to high school with Anna.  That's terrifying, she is a great woman and it's the worst thought in the world that she had to be so close to the horror.  I'm sure the attack has hit home for everyone in some way or another.

Poison nuts's picture

Terrorists obviously do the things they do in order to invoke fear & make some sort of misguided statement. One thing that they don't count on is that their acts against Americans, while terrible & tragic, also tend to bring people closer together & strengthen people's resolve not only in the cities where the attacks take place, but throughout the country as a whole. In that way, the attacks actually end up having the opposite effect of what was intended. The fact that Anna wishes that she had finished 3 minutes later, so that she could help people, proves that point & proves the kind of character most people in this country have. This is not to say the attacks are a good thing, they are not. They're horrible - they should never happen. But good things do tend to rise from the aftermath.....
Thanks Kyle, for an incredibly good article about sports & so much more.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

DefendOhio's picture

As a Boston resident, those 5 days might have been the most surreal of my life. I thank you for this article. 

Boston Buckeye's picture

What an excellent article, thank you. I saw many proud Buckeyes and Ohioans out on the course on Monday, and we cheer for everyone. That is the spirit of the marathon - it is indeed one of the happiest days of the year for us. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and in addition to yelling "O-H"!, I found myself also yelling "Go Blue", "Hook-'em", and "Go get-em Yankees!" to help motivate the runner who was struggling on Heartbreak Hill. Many of us are still processing what happened, praying for those we know who were injured, and coming to grips that yes, it can happen anywhere, even somewhere like Boston.

You can take the girl out of Ohio, but you can't take the Ohio out of the girl

zbd's picture

Good that no runners were injured. It was the spectators watching and encouraging the runners who were injured and killed. The real heroes are the people who helped the injured. Not the self-serving politicians, and government people who congratulate each other. The boat owner also was a hero. He found the bad guy. Yet the phony politicians try to take credit. The average Joe is always the hero.

CLEBuck's picture

Didn't take long for someone to go on a psuedo-political rant.  Seems like such an unnessecary comment considering the article.  Well written Kyle.  We live in the greatest country on the planet, bar none.

C.L.E Man I rep my town, everyday bleed that orange and brown.