Posted April 16, 2013 by Jeff Pelletier 

Anatomy of a Modern-Day Crisis

This post may be a little more personal than usual, so please accept my apologies up front. Many of us were personally affected by the tragedy at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon, and the effects may linger for those of us with a connection to the community of runners or the city of Boston.

I am part of both. I have not lived in the city of Boston for close to 20 years, but it is as much a part of my identity as any other place on earth. I have been running for those same 20 years, with nearly 7,000 miles under my belt, including 10 marathon finishes. Contrary to popular belief among those who know me, Boston and running have never intersected, as qualifying for this prestigious race continues to elude me, even as I age up.

Eleven years ago, we watched the tragedies of 9/11 unfold all day long, with nothing more than email and cell phones to connect us to loved ones and news updates. Today, social media ruled the afternoon updates for many of us, both to receive updates and to publish announcements to our campus communities with vital information. As with most breaking stories, accuracy was sometimes sacrificed in the name of speed, at least for those who value being first over being right. Social media was a vital outlet for runners, spectators, and citizens to pass along “I’m OK” updates quickly and effectively. Video and photos went viral, gaining “iconic” status in less than eight hours. Even more inspiring was the outpouring of support: Local residents opening their homes to displaced runners, Google docs filling up with miles run in a show of support, and thousands of retweets for family and friends trying to reconnect with each other.

Not everything was smooth sailing. Some expressions of relief and thankfulness were slapped down for not leaving space for those who may not have been so fortunate. Many brands, who may schedule posts and updates days or hours in advance, played catch up as their seemingly impersonal messages intertwined with crucial news and announcements. Premature updates about suspects, additional suspicious packages, and injury tolls were recanted and corrected, causing confusion on what was true and what was not. “Fake” accounts popped up, championing $1 for each retweet or posting bogus photos of 8-year-old runners, some in less than 15 minutes after the initial explosion. Just as quickly, those accounts are shut down by those among us who remain able to step back, take a breath, process the stimulus around us, and take appropriate action.

One of the forgotten groups in this mess are the thousands of runners who never reached the finish line. It may seem trite to think of them, but having poured my heart into 10 marathons of my own, I know the commitment and dedication that must accompany such a race, let alone making the qualifying time for Boston. This race was years in the making for some, and a one-time shot for others. Who knows what concessions the Boston Athletic Association may be able to make to give those runners a second chance. Who knows how many of them will want to take it. The effects of this incident will be felt at larger races around the world, to the extent that measures can be taken. How race organizers can secure 26 miles of roadway remains to be seen, but I believe it is safe to say that the face of road racing will look very different in the not too distant future.

As student affairs professionals, working in a facility that may be ground zero in a campus emergency, we need to emulate calm in the face of anything but. As news broke in Ohio, my first thoughts went to colleagues and friends in Boston, as well as to students in the running club I advise who were on the course earlier in the day. When I stopped to think, yet another name would come to mind of someone who could have been downtown when tragedy struck. I was touched by dozens who reached out to me, saying I was first in their minds as someone to check in on, even as I continued to confirm the safety of those closer to the site of the incident. The silver lining in all of this for me was hearing the Irish lilt of the famous Boston accent during the day’s press conferences. It may seem like a small thing, but it was something to lift spirits in a time when that was needed most.

And that’s when it got personal. The time clock read 4:09, a finish time I could conceivable achieved. The grandstand that was struck is not far from where I’ve waved at my wife and family in my many races. Just more than a year ago, I shared pieces of this city I love with my ACUI family, including a 5K run that crossed over the same pavement now stained with the blood, sweat, and tears of senseless violence. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the image of a woman wearing a Boston College tank top on the coverage, iconic to no one, but to me an image of all that connects this city and this run in my own heart.

Tuesday morning, I ran. Partly as a show of support for the #runforboston movement online, partly because it has been my way of processing for many years, but mostly because it just felt like it was the least I could do.

I encourage you to use the comments section below to share your own reflection, reaction, or inspiration from Monday’s events. I encourage you to run, jog, or walk, whatever distance you can, as a tribute to the triumphant, the fallen, and the first responders who moved toward the blast instead of away from it. But mostly, I encourage you to emulate faith in the human spirit, rather than fear for the future of humanity. Other writers said it better than I can, so I leave you with two posts, from Ezra Klein and Kovi Baikolo. If pictures are more your speed, buzzfeed has a nice collection of 29 reasons to love Boston.

Jeff Pelletier

Jeff Pelletier is the Director, Ohio Union Operations & Events at The Ohio State University.

Jeff oversees building operations including event production, audio-visual, shipping and receiving, and office administration in the Ohio Union. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Boston College, a master’s in higher education and student affairs from Ohio State, and is completing a master’s in business operational excellence also from Ohio State. He has been a volunteer forACUI at the regional and international level since 2003, currently serving on the Board of Trustees. Jeff is active on social media, developing his digital identity alongside the students, colleagues, and mentors who aren’t bored with his posts and updates. When not tweeting, Jeff is often seen running the streets of Columbus training for the next half-marathon or 5K.


Beautiful, Jeff Thank you
Sarah-Ann Harnick
Comment posted 04/16/2013 7:22 PM
Jeff - very moving and personal reflection. Thanks for sharing my friend.
Comment posted 04/17/2013 9:57 AM
Thanks for sharing your heartfelt perspective, Jeff.
Comment posted 04/18/2013 2:24 PM
Jeff - A note from Boston to say "Thank You". One of the best ways promote healing is to share personal stories and reflections. Thank you for sending positive thoughts our way.
Comment posted 04/22/2013 3:43 PM
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