By Ernie Palladino
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Soon we’ll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and go forward.
It’s what we as Americans do. We did it after 9/11. We will do it after we mourn the innocent victims of Monday’s carnage at the Boston Marathon.
We go forward, perhaps with more vigilance and caution, but forward just the same.
We don’t stop, even when faced with the unfathomable. We may postpone, but we don’t eliminate, even when doing away with the madman’s vehicle for mayhem would solve that one problem forever.
In the wake of the bombing, more than one person questioned whether we really need mass events like the Boston Marathon in the first place. Is it truly necessary to bring 27,000 runners and upwards of a million fans lining both sides of a 26.2-mile route through a major city? Looking locally, must we really bring together more than twice that many runners and spectators and traipse them through the streets of New York next November, or set thousands of cyclists and their fans loose in the Five Boro Bike Tour on May 5?
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The answer is yes. Of course. For all the time some spend whiling and wasting away the hours on video games, we remain a nation of doers. And there are no bigger celebrations of the can-do attitude that forged our heritage — from conquering the uncharted West to exploring the endless universe — than the competition that pit the individual against himself. We bring all of them together in the name of competition. And on those days, we become one, participants and their families, elite athletes out for championships and average Joes pushing themselves far beyond even the limits of their wildest dreams.
They are celebrations, and you don’t eliminate those things because something horrible happened. You look to the next one, whether it means next year or, in the case of the Superstorm Sandy-affected 2012 New York Marathon, you postpone until better circumstances come about.
They will, too. Police and city agencies will somehow figure out how to protect these mega-gatherings so that even one nut with a backpack can’t creep through and cause unimaginable devastation. The process is already happening. The organizers of the Honolulu Marathon are in the process of gathering information to better police their own December event. Undoubtedly, the gears at the New York Road Runners Club are already turning.
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The question is not whether to have the event, but how to alter it and make it safe. Perhaps the answer is to limit the spectator viewing areas. Handle marathons and similar events like New York City manages New Year’s Eve. Once an uncontrolled mob, the crowd in Times Square is now herded into viewing pens. More than 1 million spectators are crammed into a confined area where handbags, backpacks, and just about everything else are checked. Once you’re in the pen, you stay in the pen. No exit and re-entry is allowed.
Yes, it would be harder to do with a marathon. The New Year’s Eve crowd spreads over 16 blocks. A marathon route is 26 miles. And many of those lining the route come loaded with water and nutrients to keep their running relatives and friends going. Taking them away would eliminate some of the color of the day, certainly. But better to lose a little atmosphere than lives, right?
The challenges seem almost insurmountable right now, but that’s because the events of Monday are still raw. In the end, we will view these same events in safer ways. We may not be as comfortable as before. We never will be, anyway, for tragedies like Monday’s stick with us forever.
But we will continue to celebrate competition, athleticism, and perseverance. We will keep gathering en masse as doers, because that’s what we are here.
And we will continue to do, despite the few who want to stop us in our tracks.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments…