Boston marathon bombing: Sports store near finish line becomes a symbol of healing

After the first bomb exploded outside its doors, Marathon Sports became a makeshift triage for victims; today, it’s much more

Boston: Marathon Sports on Boylston Street, just steps from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, is a popular spot for people watching the race. On April 15, 2013, that changed in an instant, when the first bomb exploded outside its doors. The runners shop was turned into a makeshift triage for bombing victims. Employees, who were inside the store when the bombs went off, became first responders, tearing apparel off hangers to use as tourniquets.

PICKING UP THE PIECES: For many, Marathon Sports has been part of the starting of a new chapter, becoming a place of healing for runners — in the year since the marathon. Pics/AFP

“Surreal, that’s probably the best way to say it,” Shane O’Hara, the store’s manager, says, looking out from inside the store on a warm spring day — a day not unlike last year's marathon, when three people were killed and more than 260 others wounded by the blasts.

Within seconds, he says, several victims were being treated inside the store. As first responders on the street were yelling for material to stop the bleeding, O’Hara thought about going to the basement to get towels, but decided that would take too long.

“We were just tearing the apparel off the hangers,” O’Hara says of the chaotic scene. “It was insane.” As staffers went in and out of the store, they had to be careful not to slip on blood and glass. It’s a moment the 43-year-old, who has managed the store since 2001, has spent nearly a year trying to move past. For many, Marathon Sports has been part of starting that new chapter, becoming a place of healing for runners — in the year since the marathon.

The store, like the rest of that part of Boylston Street, was closed for more than a week after the blasts. When it reopened, throngs of first-time customers — most of them non-runners — came in to support the store, buying race memorabilia and, of course, those Boston Strong t-shirts.

“They were buying these cotton shirts that runners hate. It wasn’t until we started getting requests for technical shirts that I knew our regular customers were coming back.” Marathon Sports’ Wednesday night running club, which O’Hara started over a decade ago, didn’t meet at the store for several weeks after the bombings; when it did, 300 people showed up.
“It was amazing. The crowd went around the block. It was very emotional, and cathartic for a lot of people.”

The store’s proximity to the finish line has also given O'Hara a front-row seat to another phenomenon: runners who weren’t able to finish last year’s race finishing it on their own. “That’s probably been the coolest thing I’ve seen this year,” O’Hara says. “Groups of three, four, five, six runners crossing the finish line, and the cops who were stationed there stopping traffic for them, allowing them to take pictures.” O’Hara, who hasn’t run the marathon himself since 1999, is running it this year.

Doing their bit
Marathon Sports is playing a charitable role in this year’s race, too. O'Hara and colleagues Dan Soleau and Kevin Dillon got approval from the Boston Athletic Association to organise the official One Fund Boston team. Its 50 runners have pledged to raise at least $8,000 each to participate. (More than 370 runners applied for a spot on the team, and many who made it have pledged to raise much more.) To date, the One Fund has raised more than $77 million for the victims.

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