Nearly 300 attend Lexington memorial for Boston bombing victims

jkegley@herald-leader.comApril 20, 2013 

For runners, the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon was personal.

"It's our event. It's the premier event for running," said Grant Wilson of Lexington, who has qualified for next year's marathon and plans to run it. "They're not going to take that away from us. Nobody can."

Nearly 300 Central Kentuckians who shared Wilson's spirit met in Lexington on Saturday morning to walk, jog and run in honor of the victims of the Boston bombing.

The crowd gathered at John's Run/Walk Shop on South Ashland Avenue at 7 a.m. for a short memorial service before starting off along several routes.

"We're running for those that can't run anymore," said Nathan Bentley of Lexington, who ran 16 miles.

On Monday, two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three, injuring more than 170 and leaving the terrorized city on lockdown as authorities hunted down the suspects.

Though no one from Kentucky was injured, the impact was felt here, as evidenced by the crowd that massed Saturday and a passionate speech delivered by event organizer Keith Cunningham.

"Our community was attacked on Monday," he told the crowd.

"Tuesday morning we woke up and pushed back. ... Our message is simple: We run," he said. "We will run, no matter what they say, no matter what they do. We will not live in fear."

The Boston Marathon is one of the nation's oldest and most elite foot races, drawing between 20,000 and 30,000 participants each year. John Sensenig, owner of John's Run/Walk Shop, said he reckons that's what made it a target for terrorists, and why runners across the nation take the attack personally.

"A lot of people aspire to take part in it," he said. "It's an American institution."

Runners and walkers trucked along several routes through Chevy Chase, downtown Lexington and surrounding neighborhoods. The large group was separated into smaller groups in part because the memorial was organized without enough notice to block off city streets, but also to accommodate runners and walkers of different skill levels.

There were 3-,4- and 6-mile routes, as well as a long-distance route of about 20 miles. Runners also were free to set their own routes.

"It's what we would call a go-as-you-please race," Sensenig said.

Cunningham said he was surprised by the large turnout. When he began planning the event Tuesday, he expected 30 or 40 participants, but that number quickly grew as word spread over social media Web sites, media outlets and through the city's many running groups.

There was a feeling of solidarity among the participants, from the casual joggers with children and dogs in tow to the long-distance runners who have raced in the Boston Marathon, or hope to one day.

"When you go to a race, you go with a lot of good feelings, motivation," said Maria Gomez of Lexington, who ran about 3 miles. "Everybody was happy (in Boston), and then all of a sudden, it was just a 100-percent change. I came here today to show support for them."

Mayor Jim Gray spoke briefly before the memorial run, thanking those in attendance.

"What your presence here really symbolizes is triumph," he said. "In times of adversity, the human spirit triumphs. It does not fail us."

"The tribute that you're making to those in Boston ... who have experienced this tragedy is sending a huge message about our city, that ... Lexington is a caring and giving community," Gray said.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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