As a spectator, I’ve learned how to cheer. I’ve learned just how far a smile, a clap and a few choice words of encouragement can go to brighten up the faces of even the most fatigued runner. I’ve learned how rewarding it can feel when I’ve called out the name of a stranger from their bib and watched their tired faces light up with recognition. Just when I couldn’t have fallen in love with running more, I fell in love with spectating and the community pulled me in a little closer.
Running hasn’t always been easy for me (okay, it still isn’t but that is a story for another day). But even when it broke my body and forced me to stop for months, I still felt that energy. I still went out to cheer my heart out, because it was something I honestly wanted to do. It made me happy, and it kept me connected.
Never would I have imagined that a scene of peace, accomplishment could turn into a place of danger and fear.
The running community in Toronto had a memorial run tonight in Queen’s Park. I waffled back and forth on whether I wanted to go. I knew it was the right thing to do. I knew it would be comforting to be surrounded by other mourning runners. I wanted to show my support, pay my respect to those who have been affected.
But all I could think about were those spectators. All I could think about were those spectators who were patiently waiting at the finish line for their loved ones. All I could think about was that 8 year old boy, his sister, his mother, and his father. I tried to push it out of my mind, but I couldn’t. I tried just for a second, to forget about the images I’d seen and the articles I’d read… but I couldn’t.
I knew that I should have gone to the memorial run, but I couldn’t; I felt paralyzed.
My heart is completely broken because tonight, I was a spectator.
I was that person standing on the edge of my feet. Clapping for every runner that made their way to the finish line. I was that person hoping to catch a glimpse runners I knew. I was that person calling out people’s names, flashing a big (hopefully encouraging) smile to let them know that I would stand out there as long as it took to find them and support them.
Tonight, I wasn’t a runner.
Tonight, I couldn’t bring myself to tie up my shoelaces.
Tonight, I was a spectator. And I felt the pain of every one of them whose lives were forever changed by a senseless act of terror.