NATICK, Mass. (April 24, 2014) -- When he reached mile 22 of this year's Boston Marathon -- the place where his race had ended during last year's bombing -- it all started to catch up with Mike Nixon.
"When I headed down the underpass right before the turn to Hereford (Street), I couldn't stop the tears," Nixon recalled. "This is what was stolen from (me) and the other runners that were stopped on the course last year. We had finally reclaimed, and so did the City of Boston and the surrounding cities (and) towns, our marathon."
Nixon and other Natick Soldier Systems Center employees had returned April 21, to Boston in response to last year's attack. They, like many others, came back to honor the victims and to make the statement that they were unwilling to yield to terrorism.
"This year's marathon had a vibe that brought tears to your eyes," said Wes Long. "People were not just running for fun, to set records or to win the race. They were also running to pay homage to all those victimized by the Boston Marathon bombings and to show the world how strong the Bostonian and American spirit truly is."
Working the marathon in his capacity as a Framingham, Mass., auxiliary police officer, Long was "overwhelmed" as runners made their way over to him for high-fives, handshakes and to say thank you.
"I was just doing my job and never expected any sort of gratitude for it," said Long. "I was extremely touched by these gestures. To have runners from all walks of life, who have overcome so much, take a second out of their race to say 'thank you' to me will be something I will never forget. Although I tried to thank them back, they quickly continued on with the race; however, the impression they left with me will be there forever."
Also in Framingham was Melvin Williams, in his familiar position as captain of a hydration station on the marathon course.
"This was one of the better races I've worked," Williams said. "We had a great crew."
Williams was struck by the size of the field and its collective mood in this, his 23rd straight year of working the marathon.
"There were a lot of runners this year," Williams said. "It seemed that everyone was in good spirits."
One of them was Shivaun Pacitto, who was near the finish line when the bombs went off a year ago.
"It was an emotional day, one filled with strength, hope, and determination to run 'Boston Strong' for the victims from last year's tragedy," Pacitto said. "I did struggle running this year, as Boston is a challenging course."
Pacitto, 56, ran the 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 22 minutes, 19 seconds, slower than last year's 4:03:37, but it didn't matter.
"The heat played a role in time, but it did not impact the feeling of joy for each step I took," Pacitto said. "The spectators and fans were cheering us on, and they were enjoying it just as much as the runners. Running in 2014 was an amazing experience. The runners were excited and the crowds (and) fans were unbelievable. You could feel their support, encouragement and excitement."
The 34-year-old Nixon also felt the effects of the unseasonably warm weather, crossing the finish line in 4:52:35.
"The cumulative effect of the warm day, plus not adjusting my expectations due to the increased temperature, made the last nine miles really tough," Nixon said. "There were very few clouds in the sky, a slight breeze that came and went, and almost no relief from the sun beating down on our necks."
Like Pacitto, however, Nixon seemed more focused on the experience than his time.
"The crowds were spectacular," Nixon said. "The course personnel were supportive and fantastic. All of the runners were out there supporting each other. The overall vibe was just remarkable.
"The greatest part of all of it is the closure I finally received as I crossed the finish line. It wasn't the time I had hoped or trained for, but it was the redemption I needed by finishing."
Long pointed out that the event became so much more than a marathon.
"Those running, (watching) and supporting the marathon were from all over the world," Long said. "It was no longer about Boston or even the United States at that point. It was about the human spirit, the ability to come together though great adversity, push forward and overcome with excellence.
"I will never forget the 2014 Boston Marathon, and I was extremely fortunate and proud to be a part of it."