Numbers are my life.
Ever since I took my first accounting class in high school, I knew I was going to be an accountant. I went to college to study it and after spending a year in financial services upon graduating college, I left to become an accountant at my first restaurant company. I grew up in the business, washing dishes, bussing tables and cooking for my parents in their restaurants as they worked tirelessly to support our family of seven children. I love numbers. I look at them and they tell a story more than words do. I love telling stories with numbers. I love studying numbers. So finding words to describe what happened on Monday at the Boston Marathon is difficult but necessary because words are the only thing I have to share.
Since my first marathon in 2003 as a “bandit” runner in Boston, I’ve grown to love Patriots Day. It always falls around my birthday (I turned 41 on Sunday) the Red Sox play their traditional morning game (I’ve never been but vow every year that I will the following year) and thousands of people are in the city to celebrate spring and all that is great about this wonderful city.
I run because I love to.
I ran cross country in 9th grade, merely as a way to stay in shape for basketball season. I wasn’t the fastest person on the team but running seemed to come easy to me. Shortly after college I started running to stay in shape. I moved to Boston and lived on the marathon route, mile 23 in Brookline, and would watch the race every year. I was mesmerized by the elite runners and their ability to run so fast for so long and make it look easy. I was inspired by the thousands that ran to accomplish a personal goal, run for a loved one or support a charity to benefit those less fortunate.
I started thinking about my first marathon in 2002, a year after my former boss suffered a stroke. He was in his early 40s. I went to a seminar on running a marathon for the American Stroke Association as a way to help. Running is what I knew I could do. I didn’t know if I could finish a marathon but I knew I had to try. I signed up for the 2003 Kona marathon in Hawaii. I trained all winter and ran Boston 2 months prior because I felt I was in good enough shape to do so. I didn’t have a number, so I jumped in the back of the race and finished my first marathon. It was exhilarating. I struggled to finish, but I made it. I ran Kona two months later and felt better. I felt better running, but felt even better knowing I was supporting a charity and a friend that had mentored me in the early years of my career. I also proposed to my wife that evening so that marathon holds a special place in my heart. I found my passion.
Later that year I wanted to find a charity to support and “officially” run Boston. I chose the Multiple Sclerosis Society. My mother has MS and I wanted to use running as a way to support their efforts to find a cure. I remember thinking about how running served a purpose. In my letter I would ask for donations and say I was running “because I could”.
I realized I had a gift. Not a gift to run, but a gift to have 2 legs that could help me accomplish running 26.2 miles.
Many people, especially those with MS, do not have the gift of allowing their legs to run a mile, let alone 26.2. I decided that from then on, I would use my gift to help others less fortunate. I’ve raised thousands of dollars over the years and hoped my small part in the Boston Marathon could help to find a cure.
Last year I raised money and had to drop out of the race, because my ”gift” didn’t allow me to compete. I hurt my knee and had to stop training. I didn’t know if I had used up my gift to run marathons again, but set out this year to see if I could. My knee was fine and I felt good about running the race this year.
It was a perfect day.
I saw my family twice during the race, stopping to give my wife a kiss. She and her parents have come out every year to cheer me on and it’s still a great moment when I see their faces. My parents have also come out to see me run. I’ve been able to see others along the race that knew I’d be running and I knew exactly where they’d be standing.
I love running along the side of the route slapping hands with the children who are so happy to be out there cheering on the runners. I love hearing music playing from people’s houses. I still look forward to the scream tunnel every year at Wellesley College (I’ve gotten a few pecks on the cheek over the years) as I approach the halfway point.
Boston College is just what I need after the hills in Newton. Students scream your name and push you into the city. I remember the first time I turned the corner on Boylston and how emotional it was to see the finish. To this day, it’s one of the great moments of the marathon for me. Thousands push you to the end when all you want to do is stop. Many have people they are cheering for, many are just there to celebrate.
After crossing the finish line this year, I got my foil to stay warm, received my medal and began walking to meet my family.
I was on Berkeley Street when the first explosion went off.
It wasn’t anything I had heard before and for a brief moment thought it was the construction at the new Liberty Mutual building. Others around me didn’t think much of it. Then the second explosion hit. The same sound, but still unfamiliar, though I knew something wasn’t right. It took a while but soon chatter started making its way to us about an explosion at the finish line. We couldn’t see anything because we were blocked by buildings so I just went to go find my family. They soon met me and by then we knew what had happened. I turned my phone on and the emails and text messages started pouring in asking if we were okay. Thankfully we were.
It took the ride home to begin to process what had just happened. Our city had been attacked. Innocent people were hurt, lost their life and rumors of more bombs were being reported. What was a glorious day soon turned very somber. I felt selfish. The medal seemed meaningless because I knew what was happening. People’s lives had been taken, other’s changed forever. A senseless act against humanity had taken place in the city I’ve called home since graduating college. I’ve lived in most neighborhoods, had both my children while living in Southie and like everyone else my heart is full of sorrow for those victims and families. Seeing the images and reading about the heroics of first responders, fire fighters, police and kind-hearted witnesses made me proud to be a part of the city. So many stories have come out about how heroic people were. Runners ran from the finish line to hospitals to give blood. Strangers ran toward danger to save people. Instincts took over and people came together.
Like so many, I hope the persons responsible for this crime are found.
I’m not sure what the answer is. Justice for sure. But what happens next?
I feel as if our country has been here before and we just revert back to our lives. I hope this time it’s different. Is peace among all humans too much to ask? I don’t know but I do know we can all do something. I wasn’t a witness, merely a participant in a great day that ended badly. I wasn’t one of the heroes, those people you’ve seen in pictures, videos and interviews. I think about when my last marathon will be each time I run one.
I thought over the weekend perhaps this would be it. That is, until Monday at 2:50pm.
You see, some of those people on the side of the road by the finish line were inspired on Monday. I had that feeling when I first moved to Boston. You hear spectators after the race say “I’m going to run next year”. The sight of people doing remarkable things inspires you to do the same. Unfortunately, a few are no longer with us and many will not have the chance next year to run. But many of us are fortunate to being able to. I know where I’ll be next year on Patriots Day morning. I’ll be back in Hopkinton running for all those that risked their lives. I’ll be in Boston later that day the same place I was on Monday at 2:40pm. I’m sure different emotions will be running through me as I turn on Boylston.
Numbers won’t matter next year as they do in my everyday life. I won’t count my miles. I won’t measure my pace. I’ll simply be thinking about the events on Monday. Nothing will take away what this day has meant to me.
As long as I have the “gift” to run, I’ll be back every year that follows.
My thoughts and prayers will go out to all the victims and their families.
Patrick Renna, CFO