Peter Sagal for Runner's World: Eyewitness to Bravery, Horror

April 19th, 2013

By Peter Sagal
Image by Linda McIntosh
Published April 16, 2013

So William Greer was really hurting, in that very particular, very painful way known only to Boston Marathon rookies, the hurt that comes from taking the first half too fast and getting hammered by the Newton Hills, and he kept wanting to walk.

“How far is the 24-mile marker?” he asked. The 24-mile marker was about 20 yards ahead of us, but William couldn’t see it because William is legally blind, and he was asking me because I was running next to him (or, just ahead of him and to the left, because he has some peripheral vision on that side) as his guide.

“Just up ahead,” I said.

“I’ll walk when we get there,” he said. And when we did, he did.

It wasn’t William’s best day. He had hoped for a 3:45 finish, and if not that, better than his 3:50 PR, or at the very least under 4:00, and all three goals had slipped away between leg cramps and stomach cramps and general fatigue. I said to him, “William, it’s your race, and it’s your day, and it’s your first Boston, so just crossing the finish line alive is a win. But I want you to try to run that last mile. The last mile of Boston is a great thing, and you don’t want to be walking it.”

And William, who had conquered a brain injury at 17 that robbed him of his sight and almost his life, and gone on to live and work and marry and run six marathons (sans guide) and qualify for Boston, gritted and walked and jogged and got himself to mile 25, and started running, and started hurting even more, and as we approached the right turn onto Hereford Street, he said, “When we get to that turn, I’ll need to walk again.”

But he didn’t. We turned onto Hereford and William didn’t stop. He danced around a traffic cone like a man sighted and took the left turn onto Boylston like a man reborn, and as we ran that famous interminable canyon to the finish I kept urging him on as I waved my arms to whoop up the crowd, shouting, “A quarter mile! Three hundred yards! Two hundred! Can you see it yet, William?”

“Yes!” he yelled, and we crossed the line in 4:04, and I was as proud of him as I’ve been of anyone I’ve ever known, and happier with this marathon – my slowest – then any other I’ve ever run. I told him he could stop running – he hadn’t realized he’d crossed the line – and I put my arm around William and enumerated his praises and we shuffled, slowly, into the finishing chute.

“You need some water?” I asked William.

“I don’t want anything,” he said, “Until I get that medal.”

BOOM. An enormous noise, like the most powerful firework you’ve ever heard, thundered from behind us. We all turned to look, even William. Another BOOM. White smoke rose in a miniature mushroom cloud into the air, a hundred yards away, just on the other side of the finish.

“What the hell was that?” said someone.

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