A Healing Community

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About a month ago, the nation was rocked by the horrible tragedy at the Boston Marathon. Although thousands of miles away, the event was very much connected to the community of Austin. With over 125 Austinites in attendance at the marathon, the terrible events hit close to home. One such Austinite, and co-owner of Ride Indoor Cycling, David Garza, was running the Boston Marathon for the first time and shared his story about that day.

Cody: I understand this was your very first Boston marathon. Tell me how you felt about running the race that day.

Garza: The energy was just off the charts the day of the race.  We started the morning off by getting on one of the buses from Boston to Hopkinton. Once we stopped we made our way to the athlete village, which was much like a post race party. Everyone was in good spirits and just so happy to be there. For me, it was like Christmas, you know it was like there it is, a gift that I worked so hard for and I was ready to get started.  Once the race finally began, I felt like a warrior going into battle walking through the streets to the start line. There were over 38,000 participants so it took sometime to get to the top of the hill where the start line was located. As you looked down the hill it was just a sea of people. It made me so proud to be there.  We were in wave nine which was predominantly made up of charity runners. They weren’t there to win the race; they were there for a cause or a particular purpose, which made it even more meaningful to be surrounded by them.

image-1Cody:  How many people did you accompany to Boston?

Garza: We went with a group of eight runners and several families to run/support for Cheyanna’s Champions-4-Children. The Cheyanna Foundation for Children (CFFC) provides children who are sick and their families in the Central Texas area with resources to help meet children’s medical needs not covered by insurance or other financial assistance. This may include therapy, supplements, food, or other services to help improve a child’s medical condition.  We are paired with a child and run the Boston Marathon in their honor.  After the race, we were going to present our medals from Boston to the children as they were our inspiration behind the hundreds of hours of training leading up to the race.  Unfortunately due to the tragedy, I was stopped just shy of the finish line.

Cody: So you were at the end of your race when you were stopped. What happened?

Garza: Yes, I slowed down to wait for one of my teammates, as I wanted to finish the race with him. Once we connected we took off and at about mile 25 we heard a loud explosion but simply thought they were fireworks or something celebratory.  We heard it, but we didn’t recognize it.  I remember thinking, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting fireworks at the finish line.” Of course by that time we were exhausted and our bodies were giving out. As we got even closer to the finish line the runners started to bunch up and then suddenly everyone stopped. We thought it was odd that people were stopping right before the finish line. The crowds went from cheers to whispers that something had exploded at the finish line.  We were so close to the end, 25.8 to be exact.  It was at the point the vibe turned drastically to panic.

Cody: It sounds like you were not fully aware of what was happening just a few hundred yards in front of you, but you knew something was wrong. What did you and your teammate do next?

Garza:  At that point so many things were going through my mind and it became a little chaotic.  An elderly gentleman that was running next to us collapsed so I was trying to look over him and make sure he was ok.  We spent several minutes with him making sure he had blankets and sweaters to keep him warm.  As the crowd started to build, it was becoming unsafe. My teammate looked over at me and was like, “We have got to get away from this crowd. It’s starting to become dangerous.” Although we knew something bad had happened, no one knew exactly what was unfolding. We immediately started calling our families and teammates to let them know we were ok.  My fellow teammate Maria Groten had just finished the race and was still in the race chute when the bomb went off.   She was shaken up on the phone but we designated a church that we would all meet at nearby. I was thankful she was ok. After speaking to Maria and other runners we finally pieced together that two explosions occurred and people and were injured.  We started walking down the street where the second explosion had occurred and could see all the ambulances and people trying to attend to those that were hurt. The gravity of the situation finally was beginning to sink in.  As we were trying to meet Maria, we ran into another teammate and his wife.  She had watched her husband cross the finish line then seconds later the blast occurred.  She was in the midst of all the destruction and witnessed some very traumatic things—she was so shaken up. My teammate and I spent some time with her trying to comfort and calm her down.  After that, they started clearing the streets and moving people back.  Finally after another two-mile walk, we made our way back to the hotel where the rest of the team had collected.  The sense of relief to know that my teammates and their families were safe was overwhelming.

Cody: I can only imagine, after running 25 miles, you’re mentally fatigued and along with the confusion of the explosions… it must have been daunting.

Garza: We had no idea what was going on and for us to be in race mode just to get the finish line, we had to really focus. It took some time to collect ourselves and stay calm. Our short-term goal was to find Maria and the rest of the team.  Everyone one switched from thinking about the pain and fatigue to making sure their friends and loved ones were safe.

Cody: I’m so glad everyone one on your team was safe.  Once you guys were more settled in later that day, how would you describe the mood of your team?

Garza:  We stayed in the hotel room the rest of the day. Everyone’s emotions were different and wide in variation: shock, anger, worry and confusion.  I just kept asking myself, “Who does this? Who goes to a marathon and sets off a bomb in attempt to hurt people.  It’s supposed to be a time for celebration and achievement, not sadness.” Once I had time to myself, I was able to check my messages and emails and hear the concern and love from friends, family and even strangers, which provided a much-needed sense of calm and love.

Cody: What would be your words of wisdom to the Austin community and those affected by the tragedy upon moving forward from this?

Garza: That’s a really difficult question. The one thing that comes into my head is that with every runner there comes a point in their mind where you feel utter pain and you’re hearing everything from your body telling you to stop. You think you can’t go anymore, you can’t go any further, you can’t move on. But this is our time as a running community and a nation to say, “We can keep moving and we will continue to do so and heal. We will not let the happiness in our hearts be masked by this evil doing.”

We appreciate David’s willingness to share his experience of the Boston marathon and knowing him personally I believe he was there for a purpose: to comfort, lead, and support his fellow teammates and fellow runners.  Since the tragedy, countless Austinites have embraced the city of Boston through memorial walks and fundraisers.  The healing process will be a long a journey for those affected by the tragedy and the Austin running community will be there every step of the way to offer love and support.

 

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