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Sherman Says: Boston’s Heartbreak Hill serves as a metaphor for our times

WESTERN NEW YORK — Our society carries a heavy burden. In addition to dealing with our own, personal tragedies, we are saddled with the memories of Sept.11, Oklahoma City, Columbine and Sandy Hook. And now, the Boston Marathon.

Man’s inhumanity to man has grown darker and more horrible, during the past couple of decades, with unspeakable crimes committed against everyday citizens and innocent children.

The roll call continued Monday, April 15, on Boylston Street, where three persons were killed and an estimated 130 were injured, by bombs detonated near the finish line of the event.

Disrespect for human life is at an all-time low.

Someone saw the sick value of turning a joyous event into horror. The marathon is a race of individual accomplishment, shared with tens of thousands. For many, it goes down as the best day of their lives. To qualify is an accomplishment; to finish is a dream come true.

This individual sought to take something away from the spectators and participants, but also to rob all of us of our sense of security. Terrorism is a gut-wrenching urge to duck and cover, to constantly be looking over our shoulder and question moves we take for granted, as Americans. We must not cave in.

We must be vigilant and proactive, allowing law enforcement agencies to monitor suspicious activity, before it morphs into another national nightmare.

A marathon, by definition, is a long, dangerous route. It is not a sprint to an easy answer or a Band-Aid® solution. It requires training, diligence and a firm commitment to reaching the goal.

The same can be said for our need – our right – to feel safe, in our own communities. We cannot reach that finish line by ourselves.

In the fifth century B.C., the Persians invaded Greece, landing at Marathon, a small town about 26 miles from the city of Athens. The outnumbered Athenian army sent messengers to cities, all over Greece, asking for help.

According to legend, a herald named Phidippides ran 26 miles, from Marathon to Athens, to announce the Greek victory and died on the spot. It is a story of great stamina and sacrifice, as well as strength of character.

The following excerpt could have been written by an ancient Greek, but it comes from a modern-day Boston website and was obviously penned by someone familiar with the most famous race in New England.

“The final hill, the legendary Heartbreak [Hill], begins after the shops at Center Street and rises a half-mile to Hammond Street. In itself, the incline is merely challenging; but after 20 1/2 miles, the effort becomes the toughest stretch, on the course.

“With a mile left, the final drive is a hazy mix of sound, exhaustion, pain and lost coordination. The mind may try to calculate distance, pace and finishing time, but the effort is often futile. The numbers jumble together. A glance to the side, and there’s the Eliot Lounge at Massachusetts Avenue. One more block and turn right on Hereford Street, where the crowd seems as large as the Fenway bleachers, on a Sunday afternoon.

“Strain up a small rise and wheel onto Boylston Street, where nothing is left, but everything is summoned.

“Finally, the end, and a staggering, two-block walk to the family receiving area. Sitting on the sidewalk, back to the Hancock Tower, the body slowly regains a bit of strength. After a few hours of recovery, a few beers and a leisurely bite to eat, thoughts turn to how to make next year’s performance even better.”

Next year’s Boston Marathon will be even better, because we have the strength and resilience to keep going, to overcome all obstacles and defy those who would divert us from our route.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at

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