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‘We will run through this’

Editor’s note: Monday was Daven Oskvig’s 36th birthday. The Amherst resident, pastor of Elma United Methodist Church and long-distance runner celebrated by taking part in his first Boston Marathon. His wife and daughter were at the finish line when he crossed at 2:45:21, the best time of all Buffalo-area runners. Less than 90 minutes later, his day of celebration and achievement – and that finish line – took on an entirely different meaning.

April 15, 2013, dawned as a nearly ideal running day. The morning was cool and clear as I made my way to my first Boston Marathon with two other marathoners who were staying in the same place as me in Auburndale, Mass. David and Doug from Detroit, with more than 10 Boston finishes between them, had taken me under their wing to help me understand and navigate race morning.

With our legs light and our spirits high, we walked the half mile to the Riverside T station. On the way I informed David and Doug that it was my birthday, and with such lovely weather I was hoping for a memorable run.

We rode the T in to the Parkside stop where we then waited for the buses to take us to the start, 26.2 miles away in Hopkinton. Finally we boarded and rode the 45 minutes out to the start. David and Doug guided me to the gear check area and wished me well. I had just enough time for a last bathroom stop and to check my gear before making the trek to the storied start line of the Boston Marathon.

David, an OR nurse, had given me a disposable surgical gown to wear until I reached the start to stay warm. I wore it as I walked along with growing apprehension. I was part of a living, moving sea of people in brightly colored athletic gear with spectators gawking at the scene everywhere. It was easy to find my wave and corral with less than 10 minutes to wait before we started. I sought to settle my mind repeating “strong and smooth … today is your birthday” and the mental image of greeting my wife and 3-year-old daughter awaiting me at the finish.

The crowd support over all of the next 26.2 miles was incredible. Towns, villages, colleges and individuals all put on incredible displays of support. There are various high points along the way: reaching Boston College, the first glance of the Prudential Tower, the first glimpse of the CITGO sign, Kenmore Square, the turn onto Boylston.

And then, the first glimpse of the finish line.

As the miles passed, while I was running a strong race, I realized it probably would not be my fastest marathon. I kept repeating “strong and smooth … it’s your birthday” and thinking about my wife and daughter.

Qualifying for this storied race is an achievement in itself. Then to participate and run the Boston Marathon is like running down the hallowed roads of running history.

A day earlier, my wife and I had walked from the race expo down Boylston and through the finish while I carried my daughter. She pointed out all of the international flags fluttering there by the finish line representing all of the different countries whose citizens were in the race.

Now I was trying to find energy for a finishing kick, running beside those very flags, finishing my first Boston Marathon on my 36th birthday, ready for the hugs from my cheering squad of wife and daughter.

I made my way through the finish area, receiving water, a space blanket, medal and food. I exited into the family meeting area where I reunited with my cheering squad, where I hung my medal around my daughter’s neck. We made our way to the T to get back to the car and head for home. People who got on and off throughout that ride kept congratulating me on finishing the race as I sat and reflected on the 26.2 miles I had traveled along the storied route.

Back in our car, we had just turned toward home when we started getting a flurry of text messages inquiring about our safety. At first, we didn’t know why. We had to learn secondhand what had transpired at the finish line less than 90 minutes after I crossed. We remained transfixed to our radio and our cellphones throughout the day.

Every time we paused at a rest stop on our way home, we encountered other runners and families also making their way home. What should have been exchanges of congratulations and sharing stories of triumph became just a few somber words. “Can you believe it?” We were all in shock. It was surreal – athletic triumph tempered by tragedy.

This happened in a place we had just been. This happened to people who had just cheered us on and whose lives now had been so profoundly affected and in some cases ended.

For us runners and our cheering squads, the jubilation of the day was marred by tragedy. The athletic achievements of qualifying and running were shaken and forgotten in the horror of what followed.

April 15, 2013, and the 117th Boston Marathon will be memorable for very different reasons. But I know the running community. We will not be discouraged by adversity. We run through weather, sickness, injury, good times and bad. We will run through this. We will not allow evil to overcome good.

We will be back next year on Patriots Day to reclaim this race for all the right reasons. These same reasons that we saw displayed as people responded to what unfolded, running in to help, putting others before self, showing that hope and love will never be overwhelmed by evil and hatred.