Newtown/Sandy Hook standing tall

I had the chance to visit Newtown, Conn., on Saturday to interview runners from that town and Sandy Hook, one of the villages that resides there. There are 11 from the area who are running April’s Boston Marathon.

Some are first-timers, others were there last year in the heat. All of them have amazing stories to tell.

There are two doctors – at least – among the 11 who shared the horror of Dec. 14, the Friday morning when a gunman entered Sandy Hook elementary school and killed 20 students and six teachers. That’s 26 total. I reiterate that because it’s lost on no one who is running Boston how significant the number is. Twenty-six miles, twenty-six lives lost.

One of those physicians, who has a pediatric practice in Newtown and a fourth-grader at Sandy Hook elementary, said she was called to triage just after the shooting. She quickly drove toward the school, got within a half-mile before a traffic jam halted her progress. She then ran the rest of the way.

“I went to houses that night and just hugged people,” she told me. “These children were our friends, neighbors and patients. All 4 of my children went through SHS. If the shooter had gone right instead of left, my daughter would be dead.”

Another doctor, who works in Danbury, said two of the victims were transported to his hospital. He said one of the technicians there told him that his son had a gun pointed at his head, but the shooter ran out of bullets. The doctor in Danbury also has a partner whose daughter was in the class next door to the shooting.

“This can’t be real,” he remembered thinking. “I was trying to see patients and be professional.”

But despite the tragedy, these runners told me they are more proud than ever to be from these towns that few had heard of before 12/14. And training hard for and running Boston will be one way to show that.

“Running is freedom for me,” the Newtown doctor told me, while asserting her love for the town. “It’s a beautiful place here. My husband grew up here and we are here to stay. This is where I belong and this tragedy has solidified my commitment to pediatrics-protecting kids and teaching them how to take care of themselves.”

Another Boston participant and Newtown resident, a track and cross-country coach in nearby Oxford who deferred running Boston last year due to the heat, said the weather won’t hold him back this time.

“I don’t care what happens this year, I’m running,” he said. “It’s going to say on my registration form and the results: Newtown, Connecticut. You’re going to have to take some pride.”

I’m trying to catch up with as many of these Newtown/Sandy Hook runners as I can for an article in next month’s New England Runner magazine. These folks are no doubt inspiring. And they’ve vaulted me in my own training for Boston – and to write a story to match their inspiration.

And the best part of my visit was the opportunity to run with three of these Boston qualifiers. I hadn’t run with a group in over a year. We went up and down hills and past memorial sights. It was truly a trip to remember.


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