As a child I was hyper, and active. This was the early 1980s, and the name “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” was not yet invented – ADHD as a medical label was created in 1987.
My parents did not want to medicate me. They had another idea. Before I would do my math homework at night they would say, “Natalie, why don’t you go run around the block, to burn off some energy.”
I grew up in Nebraska. My block was 4 miles long.
It was during some of these early life runs that I began to understand the impact that running has on the mind and body. I was too young to comprehend why running was so important, but I knew if I ran I would be able to focus on my homework.
Fast forward 25 years, I was in my first year of grueling medical residency, often not seeing the sun for months at a time. The habits I developed as a child I carried into adulthood and running remained a big part of my life. Now I was mature enough to understand that running is the world’s greatest liberator.
Running clears the mind, refreshes the body, and revitalizes the soul. As a child I had run to relieve my energy; as an adult I ran to restore my energy.
With this deeper understanding, I decided to run the Boston marathon every year of residency. So In 2013, I laced up my running shoes and boarded a bus to Hopkinton, Massachusetts to start my fifth Boston Marathon.
Picture the most beautiful day of your life, perfect weather, and blue skies, surrounded by thousands of kindred spirits. That is how the day started for 30,000 runners and a half a million spectators.
I was 800 meters from finishing the race, when I heard one explosion and then another. We did not know what had happened, but it quickly became very clear that something terrifying had occurred at the finish line and people were injured.
I was running the race with my father (we had run the Boston marathon together as a father-daughter team for many years). We are both physicians, and turning to him I said “Dad, we have to get to the finish line to help.”
I jumped over a barricade and ran down a back ally that dumped me out at the second bomb scene. It’s difficult to describe in words the nature of this horrific event.
I went to work as fast as I could to treat and triage the injured. People were working hard, very hard to save lives and limbs. One of the most remarkable outcomes of that day is that the first responders acted so quickly and so astutely that more than 200 lives were saved.
In the aftermath of the bombing, there was intense grief and anger as people struggled to understand what had happened. For a brief moment we were paralyzed with sorrow. But out of this sorrow, something extraordinary began to happen. The resilience, compassion and courage, the true colors of humanity, emerged.
These true beautiful colors of humanity are now represented by a simple yet powerful phrase. At that moment, we were all part of a common cause: To be “Boston Strong.”
With this common cause in mind the city set its sights on the 2014 marathon, and we ran. We ran to heal. We ran to find strength. And we ran to raise money for those who were injured.
We ran to show the world that we could still run, that evil could not destroy the human spirit. In total, 36,000 people ran. The survivors ran, people who had lost limbs ran, and over a million people cheered us on.
This is why running is so beautiful. No matter what phase of life you’re in, no matter what you are going through, running will be there. Running is there to help you focus, to lift your spirits, to give you strength. Running will always be there, even if you turn your back on it. If you say to running, “I hate you,” it will still be there for you.
We now have One Boston Day every year on April 15. This is how we continue to be Boston Strong. One Boston Day is a day of kindness and compassion. It is a day when you offer your time, talents, and enthusiasm to better someone else’s life.
As our first One Boston Day has passed, and the 2015 Boston marathon now approaches, I encourage everyone to do two things: 1) Go for a run and 2) be kind to a stranger.
If you do these two things, and then do them again, if you make them a habit, I guarantee you will be a happier, healthier person, and you will be able to achieve the extraordinary.