Festive, solemn mix as runners honor Boston Marathon victims Sunday

ccampbell@newsobserver.comApril 21, 2013 

— Six days after his Boston Marathon run was cut short by deadly bombing, Chapel Hill resident Joe Stavas was back on a race course Sunday – this time for a three-mile memorial run through downtown Raleigh.

Stavas joined roughly 2,000 other local runners for the Boston Memorial Run, which raised money for victims of last week’s attack.

“I think it brings perfect closure,” he said, sporting his bright yellow shirt from the Boston run and two race numbers.

One was his number for the race; the other belongs to his daughter, Natalie, a Boston pediatrician. They were nearing the marathon’s finish line together when they heard the explosions. Natalie vaulted across barricades to go help the 200-plus people injured, all while fighting off exhaustion from having run 26 miles. Joe, who’s also a doctor, stayed behind to help runners who were battling hypothermia from the abrupt stop.

On Sunday, though, Joe Stavas was ready to put the experience behind him.

“I’m trying to run in honor of all the people who sacrificed their lives,” he said.

Raleigh’s Memorial Run was far from the typical Triangle road race. The finish line had no time clocks or tape for the winner to run through. Instead, the finishers passed under a giant American flag hanging from a fire truck’s ladder.

Just before the race, a pumped-up crowd paused for a moment of silence and the square filled with the sound of bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” in memory of those killed and injured at last week’s Boston Marathon bombing. Runners in a crowd that nearly filled Moore Square said they were determined not to be cowed by the events in Boston. Stavas was among a dozen runners who had participated in the Boston event.

“Boston! Boston! Boston! Be Strong!” chanted organizer Kaz Yahyapour, leading the enthusiastic crowd. The Tobacco Road Marathon director had also been at the Boston Marathon, finishing 12 minutes before the blast.

“Keep running and don’t let anybody take your dream away from you,” Yahyapour told the runners.

Yahyapour rallied organizers of numerous races and running clubs to bring out a crowd on short notice. “Tuesday morning, he made a phone call and said ‘we’ve got to do this,’” said Elaine Evans, who leads the RunRaleigh races. By Sunday, they’d rounded up dozens of sponsors and raffle prizes and persuaded Raleigh officials to close the streets.

Dave Meyer of Raleigh said he was impressed by the turnout, which sends a strong message to Boston residents. “It’s good to see all the people come out on a Sunday to support it,” said Meyer, who ran the Boston Marathon in 2011.

Participants also got a chance to send a “virtual show of support” by writing messages to Boston and posing with the signs. The photos – with messages like, “Don’t stop believing Boston, we love you” – were posted to trianglelovesboston.com.

And as new details emerged about the suspects in the bombing, Sunday’s runners said they were determined not to focus on the bombers.

“The real story is the people of Boston – the people that helped in so many ways,” Stavas said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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