Editor’s note: Robert Wheeler is an entrepreneur and firefighter in training based out of Marshfield, Massachusetts. He ran the Boston Marathon in 2013 and helped victims who were hurt in the explosions. He is on Twitter.
Before any race, a runner has pre-race nerves. Before Boston, the World Series of marathons, I am lucky if I sleep. After you make that 26.2-mile trek to Boylston Street, you have completed what you have worked for with months and years of training. You made it.
By the time you turn on that street, you are mentally, physically and emotionally worn out, though that won’t stop you -- not now. The crowd roaring down Boylston Street powers you, gives you the energy you thought you no longer had, and you give your last sprint toward the finish line.
The happiness, the relief that sweeps over you is like no other: You feel like death, but at the same time, you’ve never felt more alive. Some call it a runner’s high, others exhaustion; I consider it the success of the countless hours of training, hard work and dedication.
April 15, 2013, I had one minute and a few seconds to enjoy that bliss before a bomb went off, sending a shock wave that, to this day, still echoes its sights, smells and sounds through my body.
I reacted the best I could, not knowing where the people I ran with were. I knew that there were people who needed help, who were alone, so I ran back toward the sight of the first blast. Smoke filled the sidewalk. A puddle covered the ground. Crying and calls for help riddled the air, along with alarms from all the nearby buildings echoing over each other and the rattling of the staging being pulled away.
I ran over to answer the call of a man’s daughter, asking for help for her father. I took off my shirt and used it to keep pressure on the wound, trying to keep them both calm. Another man gave his shirt that we were able to use as a tourniquet, since the direct pressure wasn’t stopping arterial bleeding. After holding on tight to his leg, we were able to help the man into a wheelchair and to the medical-tent-turned-trauma-center, where EMTs and ambulances had been arriving.
Read more: Witness: 'Of course, it's a bomb'
At that time, police had secured the area and I was asked to leave the premises. As I walked for miles to get out of the city, shirtless, covered in evidence of where I just came from, strangers clothed me. Eventually, I was able to get a ride home by 11:30 that evening.
Since that moment, I have been awaiting Patriots Day 2014 -- the day of this year’s Boston Marathon -- when we can take back our race, the race that cowards who did not dare show their faces took from all of us last year.
Monday, April 21, 2014, we will take that back, we will run that 26.2 miles again without fear, we will come to cheer on runners from around the world, drink our cold brew and take back our day. We will cheer louder than ever on Boylston Street and may the world hear us as we do, as our footsteps take us across that finish line, which is its own victory, no matter what place you come in.
See more: Boston horror on Page One
I do not expect to beat my personal record during Boston Marathon 2014, but I will finish: I will finish strong, with my chin held high; I will take back our run.
During this year’s race, I will ask forgiveness of myself for those I was not able to help that day and remind myself that I did what I could. I will remember that we can run the course marked out for us and overcome all obstacles. We can encourage and inspire those around us, we can help people through their continued healing process, and we can live better, not only for ourselves but for the fallen.
The Tsarnaev brothers do not know runners, or Boston, for that matter. A marathon is about overcoming obstacles and breaking through limitations.
Read more: Where the Tsarnaev brothers are really from
When I watched my first Boston Marathon, I must have been 8 years old, on the sidelines in Ashland. I was baffled that people could run that long. When I reached adulthood, I still did not think I could ever run that long. Then one day, I set a goal, I overcame doubts, fears and all the pain that comes with it, and I completed my 26.2 mile race, which opened my eyes to what else I could do that I have been telling myself is impossible.
This year, I run not only for myself, but those who lost their lives, limbs and peace of mind. More importantly, I run to make it known that we are not afraid, we will not quit and that we are not only still strong but stronger than ever before!
Read more: Feds seek death for Boston bombing suspect
We run for Boston. See you on Boylston!