BY: MAYGAN BECKERS
My teal and silver Nike Shox hit the uneven pavement as I jogged down 18th Avenue on a brisk spring morning. I had never been more aware of my surroundings. Pressing through thousands of chatty participants and seemingly suspicious spectators, I took a second look at people talking on their cell phones or carrying backpacks.
On my way to the starting line of the Eugene Marathon, the first national race since the April 15, 2013 Boston bombings that took three lives and injured hundreds, I quickly searched for runner 4445, Shelly Beckers.
My mother, who was competing her ninth and final marathon at 51, decided to spare her knees and cut back on long-distance running. This was her last chance to run 26.2 miles in Eugene, where her daughter achieved a family dream—earning a college degree.
“You made it,” my mom said, as I met her on the corner of 14th Avenue and Agate Street. With a tight hug, I wished her good luck. Rather than running the entire race, I would meet her at mile 23 to help her cross the finish line. Finally letting go, I watched her step toward the starting line. Knowing the chances were small, part of me still wondered if this would be the last time I would see her unharmed.
I was 12 when I saw the Twin Towers fall on my living room television. However, the Boston tragedy was the first act of international terrorism I’d experienced as an adult. I grasped that no matter where I was I might never truly be safe. My loved ones and I would always be vulnerable to chance, and to the calculated decisions of others.
My mom, however, wasn’t letting fear control her decisions.
At the commencing line, the assembled runners bowed their heads for a moment of silence to honor the victims of Boston. I reflected on why I was running. The reason was standing at the start sign, adjusting her running bib, causing the wedding ring my father gave her to glimmer.
Suddenly, I jumped at the delayed crack of the starting gun and moved a half step closer to my dad, who always gave me reassurance. As my mom shrunk from view, images of bloodied runners, terrified spectators, and collapsing debris replayed in my mind. Would this be the next city to get hit?
Setting those thoughts aside, my dad and I had breakfast before meeting my mom at mile markers seven and fourteen. I cheered her on and anticipated her requests for deodorant and sunglasses, while my dad fished around in the bag she had prepared.
However, mile marker eighteen didn’t go as planned.
My heart began to race as my dad and I waited. After 20 minutes, she still hadn’t passed.
My escalating panic turned into relief as I saw her bright blue shirt. When I saw she was okay, my body relaxed. She was tired, but safe.
Without thinking, I stepped into the course and began running alongside her—five miles earlier than I’d planned and trained for. Although my mom looked at me with confusion, I wanted to run the extra miles for her.
“It’s 80 percent mental, 20 percent physical,” I said to her.
Though little inclines felt like giant mountains to her, I encouraged her to stay positive. She leaned heavily on my arm, speed-walking a 12-minute pace. My left side ached so badly I wanted to stop. Hiding my pain from her, I gently leaned to my left and stretched out an unbearable kink.
Turning the corner on mile 20 into the suburbs, I noticed something that revived me. A pair of black pants had been placed into a tree trunk in the shape of the ribbons runners received to support Boston victims.
Worry overflowed my aching body as we entered Hayward Field for the last stretch. Would we conquer this race harmed or unscathed? I became alert as my mom painfully giggled at being so close to her goal. Crossing the finish line at 5:56:16, we linked hands, lacing our fingers together and setting our opposite hands on our hearts.
Once my mom hit the finish line, she grabbed me and held on with a squeeze. Arms wrapped around her, I sensed her emotion—causing tears to form in my own hazel eyes. Knowing that we conquered our fear together will have a special place in my heart forever.