When I deliver seminars at race expos, or to small groups of runners, I frequently advise that we don't overthink our sport. Sometimes, running is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and going as fast as we can.
This morning a variation of those words took on a new meaning for me.
"My focus is on putting one foot in front of the other."
The words did not come from a runner, rather a spectator.
His name is Jeff Bauman.
Thirteen months ago, as he anxiously awaited the arrival of his girlfriend, Erin Hurley, who was running the 2013 Boston Marathon for charity, he heard an explosion. smelled burning flesh, and looked down to see he no longer had his legs.
I read an account of Jeff's story in Parade Magazine. His book, "Stronger," is due to be released on April 8.
One minute before the first homemade bomb was detonated near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Jeff Bauman looked into the face of one of the men responsible for the senseless act. Tamerlan Tsarnaev wore a hooded sweatshirt, and according to Bauman, while those in the crowd enjoyed themselves on a clear, sunny day, "He was all business."
Jeff Bauman attributes his life being saved to many courageous people who stepped forward last Patriot's Day, but the world remembers the photograph of a dazed and severely injured Bauman being frantically pushed in a wheelchair by Carlos Arredondo, "The man in the cowboy hat."
Despite having both legs amputated, both of his eardrums shattered, and suffering severe burns from the blast, it was Bauman who identified Tsarnaev, soon after he had regained consciousness, an act that surely led law enforcement to the Tsarnaev brothers. Tamerlan, who was observed by Bauman, died in a police shootout. His brother awaits trial for his actions.
Of the many victims on that day, Bauman is the only one to have had both legs amputated above the knee. His rehabilitation has been excruciating. For him, simply attempting to walk across the room is painful. The mental and physical anguish is nearly unbearable.
As Jeff puts it, "My focus is on putting one foot in front of the other."
Through it all, his girlfriend, now his fiance, Erin, has been his greatest supporter. They are expecting a child this summer.
My fondest memories of my sixteen Boston Marathon races are not the times I've run, but the people of the race. The spectators, the Jeff Baumans, who wait and cheer for the runners.
Jeff Bauman doesn't see himself as a hero, but he is. His intention, as he waited for Erin last April 15 was not to be a role model, but he is. Terrorists, again, tried to bring us down, but Jeff Bauman brought THEM down...from his hospital bed.
On the cover of Parade Magazine, Jeff proclaims, "I know exactly when my life changed."
All of us in the running world had our lives changed on Marathon Monday of 2013, but the actions of gutless cowards altered the life of this 28-year old young man in ways we, on our worst days, can't begin to imagine. Three innocent people, along with nearly 300 others, all Boston Marathon spectators, suffered, as Jeff Bauman did that day.
We honor them in the best way we know:
By putting one foot in front of the other.