Running for a cause: honoring the 10-year anniversary of the Boston Bombing

By Nia Harmon

The bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 shocked the world. An event meant to bring people together ended as a day in peril, as three lives were lost and 260 were left injured. As the 10 year anniversary of this tragic event approaches, junior journalism major Morgan Gaffney pledges to support a sentimental cause. 

Gaffney is no stranger to the Boston Marathon. Her mother, Renee Carther, ran the race seven times between 2009 and 2015. As a spectator, Gaffney admired her mother and hoped to one day run in the marathon as well.

Gaffney was just 10 years old when the bombing happened, watching the race from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel overlooking the finish line, and said being back in the city as a student helped her cope with the trauma.  

“I think I realized freshman year,” Gaffney said. “Running would really be something that I could reclaim for myself and it would be kind of a healing experience.”

After Gaffney’s mother received—and turned down—an offer from her old running team, she recommended her daughter take her place. From there, Gaffney applied and received a spot on The Hole in the Wall Gang team. The team runs and fundraises for a charity, allowing the athletes to participate in the marathon without running a qualifying time.

The Hole in the Wall Gang is a camp for children with serious illnesses, free of charge. As the daughter of a camp nurse, Gaffney fondly remembers the times she visited. 

“It’s had such an impact on my life,” Gaffney said. “Now being able to run for them and raise this money for them and know that it’s going towards them and the kids that go there is amazing. I know I am going to be sobbing when I cross the finish line.”

Hole in the Wall Gang athletes are trained by Dan Fitzgerald, co-founder of Heartbreak Hill Running Company and head coach of the running group “The Heartbreakers.” A former track-and-field athlete at Boston College, Fitzgerald wanted to take his passion for running and give everyone an opportunity to succeed in the sport. 

Shortly after opening the first Heartbreak Hill location in Boston’s South End in 2009, the company became the first to offer free public speed workouts in Boston. 

What originally started out as marathon training for the Red Cross charity program, Heartbreak Hill now coaches a total of 15 organizations, big and small, including Massachusetts General Hospital and The Hole in the Wall Gang. 

“My job is to provide foundational training over those 20 [preparation] weeks…trying to balance them into powerful athletes,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s really a special thing to see people through this journey.”

Fitzgerald was at the 20-mile mark located at the Heartbreak Hill store coaching the athletes running for Massachusetts General Hospital and Red Cross when the explosion happened. 

“It was chaos, in terms of making sure our runners were okay, trying to get in touch with everybody,” Fitzgerald said. “Just from the moments seen on Twitter, ‘explosion near the finish line,’ and not understanding yet, being six miles away, what that meant.”

A day after the tragedy, Fitzgerald, his wife, and those who ran in the marathon honored the lives lost and took a step towards healing. 

“There was a tremendous amount of loss, and anger, but also the things that the running community is known for—resilience and outpourings of love and emotion—so in the immediate aftermath… we teamed up to do a run the next day,” Fitzgerald said.

The couple hosted a run in the Boston Common to commemorate victims, which was preceded by a meditation led by his wife, and then three laps around America’s oldest park to honor the three lives lost, a “show of strength” for the entire city.

“There were so many people who were affected in so many different ways… we have members of our current running community who have physical scars from the day, and they’re not always visible,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s so many stories and emotion around it. It’s been something that since that initial moment itself has been the symbol of resilience.”

The 10-year anniversary of the bombing is an opportunity for the running community to memorialize the events that took place on April 15, 2013. 

“It was a terrible day and showed the worst of humanity, but the best of the running community in the end,” Fitzgerald said.

To support Morgan Gaffney and The Hole in The Wall Gang, visit the fundraising page here.